Why Presentations Fail

I was 24 years old, less than a year out of college, and for the first time, found myself in front of a room of “adults”…

All of them staring back at me from the darkened room.

I felt for them. Standing before them was a sweaty kid, half their age, in an ill-fitting suit, stammering, stumbling, and flustered for most of the 90-minute breakout session.

I had worked for weeks on the presentation. Our little 10-person firm was trying to make the leap in a new, emerging discipline, and I was the resident expert.

And I needed a towel.

A college buddy who graduated with me was working for a competing firm and in the audience. He came up at the end and said, “it wasn’t so bad.”

Just the fact that he said that, told me it WAS worse than I imagined.

And, predictably, we didn’t get any business directly from that presentation.

Yes, my delivery surely wasn’t impressive, but there was a bigger reason why that presentation and most business presentations fail to get results.

You’re not a teacher

Have you been to a conference breakout session lately?

Most presenters think they are there to educate, so they jam a 45-minute session with as much information as possible. I’ve had people tell me that their strategy is to show just how much they know.

I get it. You have a short time, and you’re hoping that you can WOW the prospects with your wizard-like expertise.

But the goal of your presentation isn’t to transfer knowledge.

Knowledge is everywhere and free today.

Your sole purpose in any presentation should be to stir action. And specific action…

The kind of action that creates positive change in the lives of your clients.

That’s very different than teaching. And yet, it’s very important.

If you fail to create the change, to spur the action, both you and your potential clients lose. You lose the opportunity for progress.

How to structure a presentation that creates change

I can’t even count the number of books I’ve read on how to design effective presentations. Most of them focus on the visuals.

Sure visuals are important, but they are secondary. Your message, the message that will drive action, should be your primary focus. Get that right, and you can get fabulous results with no visuals at all.

It’s all in the tension…

As kids, we all played with rubber bands. Look around your desk now and grab a rubber band if you can.

When you stretch the rubber band, what happens? You create tension—stored potential energy. And if you let go of one end of the rubber band…WHACK!

You get action, motion, change. (And a sore finger.)

Your presentation needs the same sort of tension to create stored energy in each person in the audience.

No tension…no action.

You might as well have stayed in bed, instead of giving the presentation.

Loading the rubber band.

So how do we “load the rubber band” with stored energy? How do we manufacture this tension in our presentations?

I thought you’d never ask…

You could learn how Hollywood screen writers masterfully create drama and tension in the movies and then translate that to your presentations.

But, there’s a much easier way. And it’s all in the structure of your presentation.

Mind the gap.

You don’t need to look far to find the tension. All you have to do is identify the change you want prospects to make, after hearing your presentation.

Change is simply defined as moving from a starting point to an ending point.

In most business presentations you can think of it as moving from an “old way” of doing things to a “new way”…a better way, that leads to better results for the prospect.

There’s a separation between the old way and the new way. It might be a separation of skill, or system, or strategy, or knowledge, or resources, the point is there’s a gap from where the prospect is now, to where you believe they should go.

And the purpose of your presentation is to show them that gap.

Ride the rollercoaster.

Now, if you sat down and tried to present the one big gap from here to there, it would be like putting the prospect on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and pointing across to the other side. Getting there seems impossible. Too many steps, too many unknowns. Too much tension—the rubber band will break.

You want to begin your presentation by painting a picture of what the other side looks like, and then, quickly set about guiding them there.

We call that “riding the rollercoaster.”

So you break down the big gap into three or five smaller, more specific gaps. Little changes from old to new, that together carry the prospect all the way across to the other side.

Each time you introduce a small gap you create tension.

You explain what the old way is, and why it’s causing the prospect so many problems (some they may not even know about). This is like the fear of going up a rollercoaster…click-clack, click-clack, click-clack…the fear and tension build until…

You go over the peak. Then all of that tension is released in an exhilarating thrill. You see that there is hope. The hope comes when you reveal that there is a new way of doing things that produce much more desirable results. We’ve just crossed the first gap.

The prospect is thinking “it’s not so bad,” until…

You start up the next hill, by introducing the next old/bad way. And the tension is loaded again.

Then released…and you repeat this process through the entire presentation, until you’ve covered all three or five small gaps, and spanned the larger gap to the result the prospect wants.

This repeated application and release of tension creates an emotional reaction in the audience, and it’s this emotion that will drive action.

A word of caution…

You can use this structure for good or evil. It will create a reaction in prospects and it will motivate change. It’s your duty to understand your prospects and your own business so well, that you drive people towards positive change.

Prompting Action

If you’ve done everything well at this point, you don’t need a big sales pitch with pressure and scarcity and urgency like you’ll see at one of those Saturday morning real-estate seminars.

You simply need to say… “Now that you see there’s a new way, would you like help getting there?”

And, if the way you help people take the next step is to have an initial meeting, do take the appointments right then and there. Don’t wait. All the tension will release soon after the presentation is over, so give those who are ready to act an easy way to act immediately.

Want my best ideas for growing your firm, plus winning ideas from successful firm leaders?

Twice a week I’ll send the latest actionable ideas to your inbox. Just tell me where to send them and let’s get some clients rolling in…