Part of what I do as a presentation coach often involves helping salespeople unlearn bad presentation advice they’ve adopted over the years. Some of this advice is simply dated, handed down from a time when prospects relied on salespeople to provide them with all their information, or when attention spans were greater than that of a goldfish. Some of it is advice rooted in good intentions but morphed over the years into more of an “old wives tale” than good advice.
Bad advice is not only ineffective, but it can do real damage to a presenter’s credibility and cause audience tune out. Both of which can lower your chances of success. I’ve compiled a list of the top offenders I still hear being bandied about in sales and provide some alternatives for what to do instead.
Bad Presentation Advice …and What to do Instead
“Never turn your back on your audience.”
This supposedly comes from the theater, but as an actor, I can assure you that this is nonsense and leads to all sorts of unnatural behavior that makes everyone uncomfortable. Presenter’s attempts to stay “face forward” during their entire presentation result in some awkward cha-cha’s across the space or maintaining the equally unnatural statue pose.
Do this instead: Take the most direct route to where you want to go. Move on transitional lines being mindful not to make your most important point while your back is to your audience.
“Don’t use too many slides.”
I’ve seen bad presentations with 3 slides, and bad presentations with 130 slides. It’s not the quantity – it’s the quality and content of those slides (are they all bullet points? Stock images?), and how you present them (are you reading them to your audience? Are you interacting with your audience?)
Do this instead: Make sure each slide serves a distinct purpose and conveys a single message. Vary the content of your slides, i.e., some text, some visuals, some graphs (yes, even some bullet points is OK!) And, find some times to black out the screen and direct the focus to you.
“Always tell them who you are up front.”
Critical first impressions are being made during those few moments of a presentation or meeting. What first impression are you creating when you start off talking about yourself and your company? Not a very customer-focused one! Besides, in this information age, unless your company just formed that morning, you are not a total mystery to your audience.
Do this instead: Start off with something of interest and relevance to the customer. Get rid of the company overview and sprinkle in important facts about you/your company where relevant.
“Too much practice will make you appear phony.”
I’m always amused by this as very few people are in danger of practicing too much! For some reason, presentations are one of the few crafts where practice is given a bad rap. Imagine telling Meryl Streep, Michael Phelps or Simone Biles to spend less time practicing! Proper practice gives you the skills and the confidence to deliver and, just as importantly, to improvise as needed. What makes presenters appear phony, is not practice, but “poor practice.” If you practice any skill incorrectly or ‘rotely’ you will solidify ineffective behaviors.
Do this instead: Practice your presentation a number of ways working on different elements as you go. For example, focus on voice, then, movement, then interaction, etc. As you keep adding elements you will find fresh, new moments and your presentation will keep evolving. Or practice with a coach to receive real-time feedback.