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Why People Fail When Presenting


You have that big presentation today. You’re a little nervous about it, but you’ve done everything right.

You came up with great presentations to illustrate the current market, and you know how to use it to create a sense of urgency about purchasing your company’s services. You spent hours to find the right way to walk them through the various services you offer and how they would integrate with their company. You’re ready with line-by-line budgets to discuss in great depth.

You’re prepared with all the right things to say.

You go into that conference room and you deliver all the information you prepared. You’re feeling good – until you look around the room and see that no one seems terribly interested in what you have to say. Nobody even asks to see the budgets that you prepared. They all shake your hand, and you never hear from them again.

“How could it have gone that way?” you think to yourself. “I did everything right.”

The answer? You didn’t do everything right. In fact, you only did one thing right.

People often think that presentations are only about communicating the information that’s in your presentation. That’s simply not true. Presentations are all about communicating information; it’s information about your confidence level, your expertise, your enthusiasm, your professionalism, and your idea – in that order. Note that the thing you probably spend 95 percent of your time preparing is last.

Now, we at Startup Connection aren’t suggesting you go out there and just worry style and ignore substance. We are saying, though, that there are many other factors that go into a presentation that people don’t spent much time on. Things like:

  • Appearance: Take a moment and investigate the culture of the company. There are places in which wearing a suit could actually harm rapport. On the other hand, if you come from a tech company in which sandals and T-shirts are the norm, you might be starting your presentation in a rut if you walk into a company that frowns about that kind of attire. Take a look at all factors and make your choice with an intention in mind.
  • Body language: Body language plays a huge role in how you are viewed. Are you standing tall with your shoulders back, or are you hunched over a paper that you’re reading from? When you move, are you stiff and tight or are you loose and relaxed? Do you gesticulate with confidence and authority, or do you shrug you shoulders like you’re unsure?
  • Tone of voice: Is your voice shaky or strong? Loud or soft? Are you droning at people in monotone, or are there rises, falls, pauses, and surprises in your cadence. Your tone of voice goes a long way to project confidence and create an entertaining experience for the listener.
  • Presentation length: You may have an idea of how much time you need to detail all the things you want, but do you know how much time your audience really has to devote to this meeting? Find out and avoid one of the worst possible outcomes: having to wrap things up before you’ve had a chance to really get into the meat and potatoes of your pitch.
  • Introducing the idea: You may have heard that “features tell, benefits sell.” It’s true, but what does that really mean, and how can we use it? It’s easy: Lead with the benefits that your prospect will experience. People think they want to know detailed specs like the resolution of a camera or how its autofocus works (features), but most people really want to know is benefits – that your photos will look clearer and less will come out blurry. If you open your pitch by telling people that they can free up 10 hours of their time per week and will ultimately save thousands per year, you’ll have their attention.

These things sound minor when compared to your big idea, but if you’ve ever had someone present to you, you know that they all play a crucial role in how we view that person and their presentation. If they project confidence, we subconsciously start making positive decisions about their expertise. Very few people say yes to a pitch based on confidence alone, but it’s absolutely key to project confidence if you want someone to seriously consider what you have to say. We love hearing great ideas, but if we can’t immediately understand how they will help us, it’s easy to lose interest. Substance without style sadly doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.

Think of it this way: In a “Few Good Men,” would Tom Cruise have gotten Jack Nicholson’s confession if he had tentatively approached him and, with his eyes on the floor and his voice shaky, said, “I want the truth …?”

He had the right line, but if you don’t say it the right way, it doesn’t count for much.

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