In my career, I delivered more than 1000 presentations and pitches in front of audiences of all sizes (from 20 people to rooms of 3000 people) and all types (technical, business, students, professionals etc). In these last 15 years, I learned a lot about tips and tricks, about what separates a great speaker from an audience sleep enabler, about things that can go quickly towards a nose-dive and how to recover from a tough situation. I’ll start today a series based on my Romanian articles, enhanced with new stuff. So, here are top 10 myths in delivering a pitch
1. “A pitch must start with a joke”
This is my favourite! I don’t know how this myth appeared but every time a presenter begins his pitch with a joke there are 80% chances he’ll completely screw up delivering the pitch. Truth is that sometimes it is ok to begin a pitch with an anecdote. Let’s look at the definition : “a short account of a particular incident or event, especially of an interesting or amusing nature”. Notice there the “or”. For presentations, the anecdote must resume to a particular incident or event RELATED TO THE PRESENTATION SUBJECT of an interesting nature. The anecdote must have a conclusion which is tightly related to the messages delivered to the pitch and to the call-to-action of the presentation. If the presenter chooses to begin with a joke he has two major risks: if the joke is bad the whole room will feel embarrassed for the presenter – you know that moment when someone tells a joke and yes, you should laugh but you feel like banging your head on the wall – the room will feel exactly the same. And the second risk is that the joke is good, the whole room will laugh… and laugh… and laugh… and the only thing they will remember from the presentation will be the joke or the jokes.
2. “I speak the slides”
Or, to be more accurate, “I read the slides”. Second to my favourite, this is a presentation crasher! Never let yourself driven by the presentation, you need to be the one leading the presentation! When you read the slides you just become a “live” extension of PowerPoint or Keynote or Impress or whatever you are using. You are a human PowerPoint interpreter – so why do they need you on stage? The audience can read your slides without you! The slides are a support for the presentation and that’s it! They support the message flow delivered by the presenters. I attended hundreds of presentations where the speaker killed the audience reading EVERY slide (death by PowerPoint), then turning to the audience awaiting approval. No message delivered, no message remembered. PowerPoint human extension ftw.
3. “I impress the audience with PowerPoint effects”
This is also a show-stopper. My former colleagues from Microsoft did a tremendous job turning PowerPoint into a media machine allowing almost anyone to transform a presentation into a full media show. But this is a two-edged sword as too many effects can completely turn the audience blind. 10-15 effects in a single slide and the people in the audience will feel their brains exploding. Keep it short and simple (the famous KISS)! Simplify the presentation, reduce the number of effects to a minimum and focus on one thing only: delivering the messages and the CTA for the audience. Effects are just a support for your message delivery tactics.
4. “I’ll fill the slides with tons of data, the audience can read them at home anyway”
I saw presentations so full of diagrams and data that no-one was able to read them (including the presenters). You didn’t know where to focus – the first diagram? The second table? The super-important graph hidden below the uber important diagram? Read the really small fonts? No way, better focus on somethings else – such as what are they serving at lunch? People remember images and simple messages. Simplify the information you are putting on slides, make it as graphic as possible and keep it clean and uncluttered. You fill the slides? No-one will remember and no-one will read!
5. “It’s ok to deliver someone else’s presentation, I know it!”
This thing is like smoking a cigar in a fuel station. You blow up the event not the presentation. It is ok to take inspiration from other presentations, it is ok to take even the slides (if the author allows you that, of course), it is not ok to take the whole presentation. Because it’s creator had a flow in mind, a certain path, a journey of the audience from point A to point B. And most probably you have no idea what the flow is – you understand the slides, you understand the messages, but you don’t understand the journey. And the journey is the most important thing! I know that still too many corporations are making mandatory for their speakers to use only certain presentations – which is a complete nonsense since audience diversity requires different tactics, different journeys and even different messages! In several presentations I attended the speakers were looking at the slides completely puzzled. They forgot that some slides were hidden, some of the were made hidden by themselves so they just stopped in the middle of the presentation completely breaking the flow and losing the audience.
6. “I have a human clicker”
“Maestro, next slide please!” – one of the most hated expressions in the middle of a pitch. Ok, without Maestro probably, but still a complete enthusiasm killer. Many managers rely on their directs to “advance” through their presentation while their majesties are presenting. It is below their dignities to press next and they need a human clicker. Slavery 2.0. Update for you: we are in 2017, we have things called clickers. Not human, but devices. Small, sleek, sexy – some from Logitech, some from Hama, there are many, many solutions. Buy one and use it. Control your presentation, your pitch, your flow and your journey. Don’t interrupt the flow with a “next slide please”.
7. “I know the presentation, I’m not rehearsing it”
Top mistake – no, you don’t know it unless you have a genius mind. You need to rehearse it, as you need to rehearse the flow of the slides. You start with the CTA in mind and you lead the audience towards it. You need to know every slide, to know the idea behind it and where it fits in the journey. If the slide surprises you, the audience will be surprised. And you will break the flow and loose the audience. Nothing is creepier than a presenter standing completely surprised in front of a slide saying “where did this come from” or “this shouldn’t be here”. The audience will feel your embarrassment and will become embarrassed as well. And they will completely miss the CTA of the presentation.
8. “Technical people deal with technical stuff, I just come and deliver the pitch”
Sadly, this happens too often. Much too often. Speakers are requested to send their presentations in advance in order for technical team to test it. This makes a lot of sense however it requires the presenter to test the presentation himself right before the pitch. Test slide transitions, animations, moving between inputs if necessary, movies, sound, resolution, etc. Everything that can go wrong. Of course, most of the presenters choose not to do this. So, often you hear things like “the film doesn’t seem to start”, “whoops we have a technical issue”, “there is a problem with the projector” etc. And of course, you want to blame the technical, but the audience doesn’t care at all. They already blame the presenter and feel embarrassed as I stated earlier. So again – you’ll break the flow, miss the messages, miss the CTA.
9. “I stay completely still” vs “I move everywhere”
None is acceptable. When you stand still people look at you like they’re looking at a statue, they get bored and they start browsing their phones. Moreover, if you keep your hands in your pockets, behind your back or crossed, you generate a defensive perception vs the audience. Not recommended. Moving chaotically is also not acceptable since the audience will have a tough time following you on the stage. You’ll tire and confuse the audience and again – you’ll miss the CTA. Your movements must be just like in a dance, in synch with the flow of the presentation. You’re dancing on the rhythm of your presentation emphasizing your key ideas. Your movement must be natural since you are playing a role, your role. But we’ll detail this in another blog post.
10. “If the subject is cool I can talk as much as I want to”
One of the most painful tasks for a presenter – presenting within the given timeslot. It is difficult to control the time but it is part of the discipline, and of the flow – you really risk breaking the flow when someone interrupts you showing you that you are way over your time. Also the audience is prepared to listen you in your timeslot, they don’t expect delays from you. Show respect for the audience and rehearse the pitch several times before delivering it making sure you have enough time also for some small accidental interruptions.