52 minutes, 31 slides, some with up to 15 bullet-points, many with 4-5 thumbnail pictures or graphs. OK, so we’ve all sat through a good few of these, but what galled me about this particular presentation was the slide titled, ‘Typical questions AAA Software (not actual name) can help get you an answer for.’ There were eleven listed, all bullet-points, six of which ran on to a second line.
The point was, we weren’t seeking answers to ‘typical questions’. We were seeking answers to specific questions, our questions.
This was a conference call where a specialist contractor was presenting powerful modelling software to an engineering client. Myself and a colleague were helping the client to assess the software. The license cost around €30k up front, with annual maintenance of €5k per year. In other words, it wasn’t just Adobe or McAfee.
The contractor knew a bit about the client’s needs from earlier correspondence, and this was to be a detailed presentation of the software to show what it can do. But it wasn’t detailed. Or rather, it contained the wrong details.
This was a classic example of a ‘company presentation’ or what I often term an ‘encyclopaedic presentation’. It contained general company and product information, facts and figures, typical answers to ‘typical questions’ but nothing specifically crafted for us. It was a stock (very poor) presentation rolled out to clients, and taught us almost nothing new. How was this ever going to be good enough?
If you went in to a shop to buy credit for your phone and thought that the shop assistant was a bit snooty, or a bit scruffy, or a bit sleazy, you’d walk out. You will avoid buying five euro’s worth of something from someone you don’t trust or like. So if you’re trying to make a thirty-grand sale, you really need to up your game.
So why are presentations often this shabby? The answer is simple: the people who gave this awful presentation didn’t realise it was awful. I never told them – although I wanted to – and I’m pretty sure none of my colleagues did. The thing about awful presentations is that it the presenters rarely realise they are awful. Which is precisely why they are awful, when you think about it.
An audience may think your presentation is awful but they’ll never let on.
There is another important point to reflect on, here. If you give a good presentation, it probably won’t result, straight away, in a €30k pay day. Instead it will lead to a follow-on meeting, a request for more information, or another presentation at a higher level. It will lead you to the next stage in what I call the ‘communication chain’, which may eventually lead to that €30k pay day.
So, although a good presentation will only get you to the next base, a bad one will strike you out immediately. There will be no follow-on meeting or request for more information; your presentation will simply be forgotten. Quickly. But you won’t often realise the opportunity you have missed, or how your awful presentation precipitated this. In other words, with no immediate reward for a great presentation, and no apparent penalty for a bad one, people don’t learn the lesson of how important these presentations can be.
People spend lots of time on documents but little time on presentations
There is a general lack of urgency around presentations. People will spend weeks writing a document – a business plan, a funding proposal, a prospectus – but when it comes to the presentation, they will say things like, ‘I fly in the night before, so I’ll have time to pull stuff together on the plane.’ This will not produce a presentation, just a list of bullet-points. Engaging content – images, videos, demonstrations, examples, infographics, stories – take time and imagination to create. You should take your presentations seriously and go looking for this content.
So when I talk about ‘urgency’, I’m not referring to the presenter’s on-the-day demeanour; I’m talking about what happens beforehand. It’s the desire to create something engaging and personal, to grab the audience, the specific one that you have in front of you, and take them somewhere. Complacency is the enemy. Complacency leads you to use the presentation you used last week and think that it will do. It couldn’t possibly.
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