Jul 9, 2018

Death by PowerPoint: What 90% presenters fail to do?


I was an Area Sales Manager (ASM) in a leading consumer goods company where I sold cooking oil and hair oil. Every quarter all ASMs had to make a presentation to the head of sales. We were supposed to talk about what we had achieved in the last quarter and our objectives for the next. These presentations were long but very important.

The night before the presentation every ASM used to stay back in the regional office. Our boss (Regional Sales Manager) was kind enough to provide free pizzas and we used to work till midnight tweaking our decks. Our review would start 9 in the morning. We somehow survived and scraped through those meetings. Those were difficult times.

Today when I conduct presentation skill workshops across the country I always ask the participants, “How many of you rehearse before delivering an important presentation?” Guess how many hands go up?

Under 10%. Less than 10 presenters out of 100 actually rehearse their presentations! No wonder they have stage fright, they are nervous and do not enjoy the process of delivering the presentation.

They have worked very hard in their jobs, they know what they are talking about but the inability to rehearse and fine-tune their presentation affects the overall audience experience. They fail to make a great impression.

All you need to do before every important presentation is to complete your slides a few days ahead of schedule and then use the last few days to rehearse your presentation 5 to 10 times. The higher the stakes the more you rehearse.

What’s the best way to rehearse? Press F5 (put your slides in slideshow mode), stand out and start talking. Move about the room as you would do eventually in the board room (venue).

Back in 2012 I saw a good presentation at a press conference. This CEO was confident, composed and well-prepared. I asked him how many times had he rehearsed his presentation and he replied, “Ten. I have presented this 10-minute deck ten times in my office board room.” When you have presented ten times already, the final presentation becomes your eleventh.

Brian Miller is a magician. He was invited to give a TEDx talk in 2015. He delivered a superb talk and it has since been watched by over 3 million people on YouTube. I interviewed Brian and asked him, "How many times did you rehearse?" His reply stunned me. He said, "150 times." Read his fill interview here: Interview with Brian Miller: How to prepare a TEDx talk? For him it was an opportunity of a lifetime. If you too have something very important, make sure you atleast rehearse 5-10 times.

Mark Twain once said,” There are only two types of speakers in the world – The nervous and the liars.” Everyone is nervous before an important presentation. You might be presenting to get hired by a prospective employer or you might be presenting to a big client to win their business. You ought to be nervous. It is natural. You are worried if you will do a good job. You are worried if you will remember everything you should be speaking about.

The only cure for stage fear is practice. Practice your presentation a few times and you will become comfortable with your content. You will stop looking back the slides and start looking more at the audience (this will help you engage better with the audience). When you know your content, you will start to improvise. You will not worry about overshooting the duration because you have rehearsed already and you know that you did not cross the time limit in the last three rehearsals.

TAKEAWAYS

  • Good message + good slides + good delivery = Good presentation. It is important how you deliver your message.
  • Finish your slides a few days ahead of deadline so that you free up time for rehearsals.
  • The higher the stakes, the more you rehearse. 5-10 times is good enough for any presentation.