January 3, 2012

A message to those who create presentations for others

It occurs to me this morning that the reason so many presentations are bad is that the speaker is at the mercy of a supervisor or another department and has no control over the material or the agenda.

The corporate office, the marketing department, or some other entity sends the presentation, already complete with slides and materials, to the hapless speaker, and expects the speaker to deliver it effectively. Or there is some arbitrary limitation imposed on the speaker (like the speaker's boss only allows presentations with ten slides -- true story), so the speaker has to jump through ridiculous hoops to make the presentation work.

This post is for you: the boss, the marketing director, the corporate honcho. The person who creates a presentation for someone else to deliver.

You may not have to deliver the presentation, but you still have a responsibility to the audience. Just because they don't see your face on stage doesn't mean you are absolved when your crappy presentation confuses the audience or bores them to death. If your employees or co-workers don't understand the new product specs or last year's financials, you are partly (or mostly) to blame.

Your employee will do her best to present your material, but if you only give her five days to prepare an 8-hour meeting (true story), there is only so much she can do to make your content shine. If you give her slides laden with run-on bullet points and no visual stimulation or variety, there's only so much she can do to make sure the audience is engaged and interested. If you ask her to present nothing more than statistics and charts, there's only so much she can do to make them care.

I've worked with your employees, and together we've made these presentations better, more compelling and more useful and relevant to the audience. But if we had started with a diamond instead of coal it wouldn't have been so much extra work, and the presentations would have been even better.

I've already given suggestions to your employee about how to deliver someone else's slideshow or script.

Now here's my request of you: Consider crafting a presentation that you would be proud to deliver. If you were going to stand up in front of that audience and share the latest market research, and you were going to take credit for the presentation, how would you want to come across? Would you want to put the audience to sleep, or would you want them to find the information as interesting and important as you do? Would you want them to be confused and unable to focus, or would you want them to hang on every detail and start thinking about how they can implement your ideas right away?

If the presentation is a waste of time for you to deliver, it's a waste of time for someone else to deliver. Take pride in your material and your message and make it worthwhile for the audience to sit through it. Give your speaker a fighting chance to give a great presentation and impact the audience in a way that is rewarding to everyone involved.

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