How Influential Are Your Business Presentations?

Just over a year ago I attended a large Sales Force Effectiveness conference and was attracted to attend for a number of reasons. Firstly, I like to keep up to date with progress within the sales industry, particularly within sales representation and sales management. Secondly, it gave me the chance to network and meet new contacts; and thirdly, as I have a very keen interest in the power of effective presenting, this would be a chance to learn from two days of watching a total of around eighteen presenters. The purpose of this article is to highlight that based on what I observed over the two days, I now believe that the level of influential presentation skill is not what it should be and to that end, I will offer a framework for sales representatives and managers to work with in order that they can develop their business presentations.

Of the eighteen presenters (all of them at a fairly high executive level in the sales 7 marketing industry) there were only two who I would consider to have above average influential presentation skills. One executive was excellent, spoke with passion and had me listening to his every word while the other, although not quite so passionate, presented in a very effective, cool, calm manner which had me engaged due to the stories that he related. The other sixteen were at best average and at worst totally ineffective.

The most common failures were:

o Too much data and information crammed on to unreadable slides.
o Talking too fast and rushing through the slides.
o No attempts to engage the audience.
o Death by Power-Point. One person attempted to go through over sixty sides in twenty minutes!
o Lack of preparation was very evident in some cases.
o Some presentations were almost identical to the previous speakers.
o Some presenters came across as ‘arrogant’ experts.

I was not impressed and wondered exactly why such senior executives were not able to present effectively. In my twenty years in the sales industry I attended numerous presentation skills courses and I felt that at the time that most of them were effective with the result that I was a good presenter. It has only been in the last few years that having to present for a living as a self employed consultant that I have realised my level of skill was not exactly what it should have been. This has been reinforced in that since becoming an elected member of the Professional Speakers Association and now having seen some serious professional speakers in action, I needed to develop further my skills. I now believe that perhaps the traditional approach to developing presentation skills may be slightly flawed. Let me explain.

On all the skills courses I have attended much of the focus of the training has been on the speaker or presenter themselves, in terms of their body language, voice pitch and tone. There has been a huge emphasis on the use of video so that participants can see themselves on the ‘replay’ and in ‘slow motion’. A coach or trainer will assist in the video analysis thereby reinforcing that the presenter has some unique ‘mannerisms’ that desperately need changed! The end result of this is that I believe the presenter remains focused on their various body movements or ‘mannerisms’ such as what they do with their hands or feet and as such this switches the focus away from where it really should be – the audience. The best presenters I have seen concentrate fully on the audience, engaging them with both the content, their energy and their enthusiasm. Some of the best presenters I have encountered would have been ‘destroyed’ by the video analysis in that their hands were doing this or their feet doing that! In terms of the excellent presenters, these ‘mannerisms’ were not picked up by the general audience because they were not evident to them due to the nature of the presenter’s content and the overall skill and energy that they projected. One aspect of presenting that every professional presenter agrees must be a priority is that of planning, preparation and practice. This is a must for anyone who presents and the old adage, ‘fail to plan, plan to fail’ is very apt! Planning, preparation and practice builds confidence and with confidence comes the automatic reaction of focusing on your audience and not on yourself.

I have developed my E5 Presenting with Influence formula and this I believe will give sales executives and managers a framework to base the preparation and execution of their presentation around, whether it is to a group of customers or within a team business meeting situation.

ENGAGE How do you engage your audience from the start and how do you keep them engaged?
How do you manage that engagement and still keep on track?

ENLIGHTEN What does the audience know about you?
How will you manage their expectations as to what you are going to present?

EDUCATE Does your content meet the needs of the audience?
How are you going to present new information?
What evidence do you have to back up your claims?

ENTERTAIN Even the most ‘serious’ audiences want to be entertained, perhaps not through jokes (dangerous tactic!) but through real life stories and anecdotes. Do you have real life scenarios to reinforce your key messages?

ENCOURAGE In every presentation you will want the audience to react in a way that is positive. If it is a sales presentation you want at the very least a follow up meeting to discuss the opportunity further, at best, a clear commitment to buy. Your presentation must deliver encouragement to act.

The best way to deliver presentation skills training is not to emphasise the use of video but to create a learning environment whereby a training course is based around regular practice in front of peers. The feedback from peers, in the role of the audience, is far more powerful than reviewing the video footage with a trainer or coach. Presenting is about planning, preparation and providing your audience with a powerful, passionate message that will make them feel motivated to act as you would like them to. So, if you have had feedback that you stroke your nose, twiddle your thumbs, or stand at the ‘wrong’ side of the stage then provided your audience is engaged, enlightened, educated, entertained and encouraged to act then so what!

Professional PowerPoint Presentations With the Rules of Six and More

PowerPoint and all the bells and whistles that come with are being used more and more in business and other presentation venues. Before presenters became so attached to computers for visual aid production, a few rules existed for proper visual design that was often adhered to by the graphic design folks who built slides in the days before the personal computer. Now with everyone having access to a computer, those rules are often ignored during slide design. The result an unprofessional look and information overload. A return to some of the old rules, referred to as the rules of six, is in order. Also new rules are needed with the computer to keep slides with graphics and animations appropriate for professional use. Below are a few rules to consider when designing slides in PowerPoint.

Rules of Six for Slide Creation

  • Use meaningful titles as introduction and summary of slide contents. Be sure to limit the number of words in title to no more than 6.
  • Have no more than 6 bullets per text slide. Sub-bullets should be included in this count. Also it is preferable to have no more than 6 words per bullet.
  • For tables of data, plan no more than 6 rows of data on a table to make it easier to read. However, for most audiences charts or graphs are better than tables. No more than 6 data points (bars, slices, lines) should be on a graph or chart.
  • In relation to talk time on each slide consider for a 30 minute presentation to use 6 (5 minutes of talking per slide) slides or less that only highlight the key points of presentation. Or no more than 12 slides (averaging 2- 3 minutes talk time per slide) where you want to provide some details that might be hard for audience to capture in notes.

Rules for Graphics and Animation

  • Only use images and graphics that summarize key points as a replacement for text, such as charts and graphs. Mixing too much on a slide only makes it crowded and confusing. Remember cute cartoons, silly photos, or movies typically don’t add much to a professional presentation.
  • Use animation and sounds wisely and sparingly. A consistent transition between slides does not fall under the animation caution. Transitions help the audience get ready for what is coming next. Also consider design template to get a more professional look with little effort. If the template has a distracting movement in it or the color is not desirable, go to the master slide view to remove the animation or change the background.
  • Remember when it comes to a professional presentation, less really is more. The less the slide has on it, the more the presenter can illuminate on key points. The less words used, the more white space included, which marketing folks say readers find pleasing to the eye. The less the audience has to try to read on the screen, the more attention they can give to the presenter. If that is not convincing enough, consider that note-taking by audience, to supplement the slide contents, actually increases their retention of presented points by as much as 40%.
  • Presenters should consider the black screen option for discussion or activity times, which do not require referencing a slide. To turn black screen on, press the letter B on the computer keyboard during a PowerPoint presentation, the screen will go dark. When ready to continue with the slide show, press B again and the show will return to where it was before.

Please consider utilizing the above rules when designing slides in PowerPoint on the computer to give a more professional appearance to slides and presenter. Remember, just because the makers of PowerPoint include lots of bells and whistles with the software, that doesn’t mean that you have to use them. Reduce the chance of information overload on the audience by returning to the old rules of graphic design and adding the new rules offered here.

Have Your Audience Sit Up, Take Notice, and Learn at Your Next Presentation

Some presentations are designed to simply motivate your audience. Some are designed to educate them. It’s this second batch that is tricky to do. It’s probably not that your presentations are lacking in educational material, but rather it’s the way that you are delivering it that really matters. You need to find a way to deliver the information in the way that adults learn…

So here’s the answer to this question right off the bat: research shows that adults learn best when information is presented interactively, using role-playing, and peer-to-peer dialog. The lectures that most presenters use are really only good for passing information along to an audience.

The last thing in the world that you want is for your next presentation to remind your audience of a high school or college class. Having you stand at the front of the room and drone on with no chance for interaction is not what today’s audiences are looking for.

The secret to making your presentation “stick” with your audience is to realize that the more active your adult audience is during your presentation, the more they will learn because they will be tapping into the knowledge and experience of their peers.

At different times during your presentation your role as the presenter should really be to be a “guide on a side” who facilitates discussions among audience members and offering feedback as needed.

We’ve all heard about left-brain / right-brain stuff. Our left-brain is set up for the way most presentations are delivered – logical, analytical, and subjective. It’s our right-brain, our visual & creative side, that is not being fed during most presentations.

Much of what it takes to make sure that a presentation appeals to how your adult audience learns has to do with how the presentation event is set up. Here are some key suggestions on how you can make your next presentation a powerful adult learning experience:

  • Use Round Tables: having your audience sit at round (or half round) tables that seat 8 or 10 people helps your audience to interact easily.
  • Schedule Break Time: make sure that your audience has time both before and after your presentation to meet and discuss what they are going to learn and what they have learned.  
  • Use Comfortable Seats: Rarely do we have control over this, but if possible the more comfortable the seats are, the more learning will happen.
  • Lose The Lectern: This can be done as simply as making sure that you have a wireless microphone so that you are not tied to one spot and can move around and interact with your audience.
  • Handouts & Downloads Are Good: You audience is hungry for information that they can take back to the office. Giving them something that they can touch and hold is one way to do this.
  • More Brian Food: This is my favorite. Most food that is served during a presentation can be sugar or carb-heavy. If possible, provide healthful food options.

At the end of the day, you go to a lot of effort to get ready to deliver a presentation. You want your audience to be impacted by your words and you want them to be able to absorb and learn from the information that you are presenting. If you follow these tips, your audience will have a better chance of learning and retaining what you have to say.