This is Why Your Presentation is Boring People

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If they're asleep, you're doing it wrong.

Man sketching in a notebook

Sending a text message, doodling in a notebook, posting on social media and even catching up on sleep. These are just some of the things people do to pass the time during a co-worker’s or client’s presentation, according to a survey by Prezi.

Whether you’re presenting to a client, an investor, a customer or a colleague, at some point in your career you will probably have to make a presentation. So how can you make sure yours is memorable, and for the right reasons?

“Nothing sends people to sleep faster than screens of text, bullet points or numbers, paired with overcomplicated images and mixed messages,” says Emma Bannister, founder and CEO of Presentation Studio, an agency that has helped clients such as Telstra and Qantas win multi-million-dollar pitches.

Want your presentation to enter the hall of fame on Slideshare? Avoid these presentation pitfalls to keep your audience engaged – and awake.

Mistake 1 | Making it all about “me”

Even when you’re trying to sell your product or service, your presentation shouldn’t focus on you. “I’ve seen countless teams, especially startups, pitch their big ideas with, ‘Why we are awesome,’” says Emma. “Instead, they should focus on ‘why you [the client] are going to be awesome with us.’” By the time you get a face-to-face meeting, your prospective client should already be impressed with you. “Now, talk about the magic you can create together,” says Emma. “Explain what is at stake for your audience if they do or don’t get your help.” One of the standout lines in Netflix’s famous slide deck was, “We help each other to be great.”

Mistake 2 | Recycling old material

It’s late on a Thursday and you have a presentation in the morning. Surely, no-one will notice if you just give an old presentation a polish? “Most of us, especially managers, are time poor,” says Emma. “So we dig up old presentations and update dates and numbers, rather than taking a step back and thinking about what we are trying to achieve at the end of the presentation. The result? Presentation slides that are text heavy, dense, confusing, distracting and misleading.”

It may be frustrating, but preparing every presentation from a blank PowerPoint template will ensure you only include accurate and relevant information. “Decide what you want the decision makers to do after they see your presentation,” says Emma. “Make this your call to action.”

Mistake 3 | Presenting without passion

Even if you’re presenting to a corporate board, instead of thinking B2B, focus on H2H (human to human). “Your customers, clients and stakeholders are crying out a natural connection through compelling visuals and emotional stories,” says Emma. “Our decisions – whether we buy or buy-in to something – are influenced by our emotions. So make your audience feel something. Use images to create sadness, excitement, inspiration, or even anger if it’s appropriate to your cause.” With a new add-in you can insert live audience polls to your presentation or real-time Tweets. But go easy on the special effects, according to TED talk slide designer Aaron Weyenberg.

Mistake 4 | Missing the point

Why are you there? It’s a simple question, but one that many presentations don’t clearly answer. “It is incredible how many clients I’ve worked with cannot clearly articulate their reason for presenting,” says Emma. “Are you trying to educate your audience, sell them your big idea, or communicate your latest results?” According to the Law of Primacy and Recency we remember, with clarity, the first and last thing we hear. “It’s vital to be clear on your main message,” says Emma. “Think of it as a bumper sticker message and strip out anything in your presentation that does not align to this.”

Mistake 5 | Being too texty

Don’t be the speaker who writes their entire presentation, word for word, on their PowerPoint slides. “Your slides are there to support what you are saying as a speaker – they are not a tele-prompt,” says Emma. “Use icons to summarise main points and infographics to show key bits of data. Replace heavy text with images and illustrations that support what you are saying.” According to one survey, small fonts, full sentences and speakers who read slides aloud top the most annoying PowerPoint habits. Follow the 10-40 Rule. A SlideRocket survey found the most memorable presentations have less than 40 words in the first 10 slides.

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