12 May Will your approach to slides make you lose your next important pitch?

We all have a strong inner need to ‘save face’ when we speak in public. We want to be listened to, and respected. This need for credibility is a big part of why some of us are so nervous when we present.

So, how do we cope? Consciously or unconsciously, some of us mistakenly try to transfer the attention of the audience from a focus on us, to a focus on our slides. Ooops! Newsflash: it’s not about the slides! Slides should be the final step in the preparation of your persuasive message.

I do a lot of work with people pitching for multi-million dollar deals. Right now I’m in the middle of a pitch for 500 million. That’s a lot of money right? It’s pretty important that my client wins this deal. And you know, I’m often surprised by the fact that even though most people fully get it that they shouldn’t rely on their slides to do the talking, they still do it. In a pitch situation, the client will often provide the talking points for the provider to run through. Sometimes they provide certain questions that they need the provider to respond to. And what is the common response here? In my experience, what most people do (even though they know this is the wrong way around) they craft an answer in PowerPoint and then put it up on the screen and read it out to the group (of highly intelligent ‘buyers’ who could most certainly read for themselves) and then wonder what happened when they don’t win. What a nonsense!

In a pitch or board presentation remember this: they already have your responses in writing. The reason you are there in person is to add some human value to the meeting, and to show your commitment and dedication to the client and ask for the business in person.

Let’s take a look at the common mistakes presenters make when using slides.

The 3 Most Common Presentation Mistakes are:

  1. Too much information on the slides (see image – OMG!).
  2. Reading from slides to compensate for a lack of preparation.
  3. Dimming the lights to focus your audience on the slides.

Let’s cover each of these three classic mistakes in more depth…

1. Too much information on the slides

Many presenters cram their PowerPoint slide presentation with too much information, thinking that they must include all points on slides. Some presenters even use slides to record their entire script, albeit in ‘dot point’ form. In a one hour presentation, that adds up to a LOT of slides. I have even seen the ‘Contents’ or ‘Agenda’ spread over two slides and the presenter take nearly 5 minutes to go through what the audience can ‘look forward to’ (yeah sure!!!!) in the remaining 40 minutes. This will definitely lead to ‘death by PowerPoint’.

Busy slides tend to duplicate what the speaker is saying, rather than add strength to the message. If you simply use slides to record your presentation, it will be difficult for you to ‘unpack’ your message in a creative way for the audience. Remember if the audience is sitting in their chairs squinting at the screen having to make an effort to read the content of your slides, then they are not listening to you. What’s the point?

2. Reading from slides

Perhaps worried about remembering what to say, and/or not devoting sufficient time to rehearsal, many presenters prepare for their presentation by ‘typing up’ a number of PowerPoint slides and then ‘speaking to them’ – (a common expression used in Australia’s corporate market). I often say to my executive clients: ‘and while you’re speaking to your slides, what is the audience going to do?’ Some people even go so far as to turn their back on the audience for the whole presentation and read straight from the slide projection on the wall. This is boring for the audience and makes it very difficult to develop sufficient credibility and interest in your message. The results of one Australian survey showed that more audience members ranked ‘presenter reading from slides’ as more annoying than any other complaint about presenter behaviour. I would say, if you plan to read out your slides to your audience, then do everyone a favour, cancel the presentation and email the PowerPoint file to all concerned for everyone to read the slides on their way to work!

If you have busy diagrams, organisational charts or process models that you want to show, don’t put them on a slide and read every monotonous detail out loud. As a general rule, if the audience can’t read it by themselves in 10-seconds it’s too busy. Instead, put the diagram into the collateral that you will leave behind and talk the audience through the paper/handout version of the model (while you hold it in your hand too). That’s much easier for your audience to connect with your information, with you and with your overall message.

If you plan to read out your slides to your audience, then do everyone a favour, cancel the presentation and email the PowerPoint file to all concerned for everyone to read the slides on their way to work!

3. Dimming the lights

Darkening the room further removes the focus of the presentation from the speaker to the screen. This encourages the audience members to bond with the screen (as at the cinema) and, correspondingly, this breaks the bond between the speaker and the audience. Another common response to a darkened room is to ‘switch off’ and either psychologically or physically ‘sleep’ – neither good options if you are aiming to persuade the audience to your way of thinking.

If you want help to win your next pitch, contact me. Winning is easier than you think.