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Three reasons your presentations suck

Achieving the blissful state of not sucking isn’t hard. You just need to know the three core reasons why most presentations suck and act on that knowledge.

Three reasons your presentations suck
[Photo: Miguel Henriques/Unsplash]

There are as many excuses for giving bad presentations as there are stars in the sky.

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“I didn’t have time to prepare.”

“I was hungover when I gave it.”

“My boss made me give the presentation.”

“I was nervous.”

“I lack confidence.”

“My dog was sick.”

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Nobody cares about those excuses.

Presentations can fail for many reasons, and excuses are only a way for you to justify why. But let’s be honest—most presentations do, indeed, suck.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s not too hard to get better at giving presentations and to achieve the blissful state of not sucking. It requires knowing the three core reasons why most presentations suck and acting on that knowledge.

You don’t care enough about the audience

Who is the most important player in a presentation? If you said you—the presenter—then congratulations, you have identified one of the reasons why so many presentations suck.

Successful presenters know that it’s not about them, it’s about their listeners. Your audience wants to be wowed by you and come out of your presentation feeling informed, persuaded, and inspired. But they want to hear that from a speaker who talks about what the audience cares about. Far too often, presenters focus on what they want to say, not enough on what the audience wants to hear. A successful presentation requires linking your message to the audience’s needs.

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Doing that requires a huge shift in perspective that many presenters do not make. They continue to think that the presentation is about them. To not suck, you must drop that selfishness and think about the audience and their needs so that you can find the overlap between what you want to say and what matters to your audience. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What do they know and not know about your topic?
  • What emotions might they be feeling about your presentation topic?
  • Why might they say no to what you are proposing?
  • Who might support you, oppose you?
  • What’s their current pain, and what do they need to solve that?

Use all of that to create a storyline, a series of messages that resonate with that audience and put you on the road to a presentation that doesn’t suck.

Yes, doing this is more work for you, but it pays off. Follow a simple rule—if doing additional research, adding content, or another revision will result in a better experience for your audience, always make that effort. Your time is valuable, but so is theirs. Respect that.

You don’t put in the time to create simple slides

Once you’ve put the time into creating messages that will resonate with your audience, it’s time to create slides to share those messages.

You can’t get by with whipping off a series of wordy PowerPoint slides in the hours before you’re due to present if you want to craft an effective presentation. Contrary to what you might think, creating simple, visual slides takes more work than slides full of bullet-pointed lists of tiny text.

You need to invest even more time, effort, and energy into creating a killer presentation that has slides that are visual with relatively few words. (Those few words should be in a large typeface so that the messages can be quickly read and understood.)

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It’s harder to write shorter, sharper, and more impactful messages because you need to think more about each word and try out multiple versions to get the messaging just right. Anyone can type 50 words on a slide, but condensing that down into 10 keywords—into the essence—takes time but produces content that is better for your audience.

Once you’ve got the right words, take the time to pick the right visuals—photos, infographics, charts— to support those words. Visuals make it more likely that your audience will remember your content. Put in the effort to search for good visuals or create them yourself.

Together these strategies pay off by delivering a presentation that not only resonates with your audience’s needs but does so through slides that are clear and easily understood.

You’re not rehearsing enough

A great series of slides with a compelling and resonant storyline will mean nothing if you deliver them poorly or if you make them boring.

To deliver a presentation that doesn’t suck, invest your time in practicing and rehearsing your presentation, over and over again.

Now you may protest, “I do practice before every presentation.” But how many times do you rehearse? How do you rehearse? What do you learn from each rehearsal?

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You need to rehearse enough times that you can deliver your presentation, on time, without sounding like you’ve memorized it. Whenever possible, rehearse in front of people and get their feedback. Or record yourself presenting and review the video later. Whichever approach you take, you will be able to get feedback—from your practice audience or the video evidence—on your presentation delivery. Use that feedback to make the next rehearsal better by changing your delivery style or your presentation content if needed.

The key is to invest the time in rehearsing deliberately and thoughtfully so that you can learn from each rehearsal and get to that state of not sucking when you finally deliver your presentation.

These tactics build confidence and kill nerves.

Lack of confidence and jitters are common excuses for giving presentations that suck. These are legitimate ways to feel, though. Many people get nervous when they speak in front of a crowd, and that drives their confidence even lower.

But if you avoid these three reasons why most presentations suck, you’ll find your confidence go up and your nervousness decline. You’ll be more prepared through rehearsal, and rehearsal goes a long way toward steadying your nerves. Your audience will applaud and be positive when they see you have created messages that reflect their needs, presented clearly and concisely.

Everything you need to get started is here. All you need to do is make an effort.

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About the author

Darren Menabney lives in Tokyo, where he leads global employee engagement at Ricoh and teaches MBA students at GLOBIS University. Follow him on Twitter at @darmenab.

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