Aim Well, Hit Your Presentation Target Consistently

The Business Journal of Phoenix – April 27, 2007

On a recent episode of “The Apprentice,” six remaining contestants were asked to divide into three teams of two. They then were directed to create and deliver a presentation: a promotional campaign for Tower Two of the Trump International Hotel and Towers in Las Vegas.

One team did a particularly impressive job. They were well prepared, creative, focused and succinct, and they truly captured the essence of Trump’s vision. Plus, they delivered it with style and enthusiasm. The other teams missed the mark.

The result: Two people were fired.



For many people, presentations are like a game of darts: a little hit and miss.

While most poor presenters are not subject to the humiliation of being fired on national television, there can be tremendous consequences when presentations miss the mark. In the non-TV world, the cost of poor presentations can be grave — jeopardizing your business, income, reputation and clients.

Presenters often miss the mark when they lack direction, clarity, simplicity and a good understanding of their audience.

A client came to me re­cently with a similar problem. As a board member of a large professional organization, she had been asked to present at a national conference. Afterward, discussions with audience members revealed that most of them were confused and unaffected by her presentation. She became keenly aware of how much she had missed her intended target.

She shared her presentation with me, and it was in fact difficult to follow. Her PowerPoint slides were wordy and without purposeful direction. The graphs and charts, created to clarify complex information, only added to the confusion. It was easy to see how her audience might have been left thinking, “huh?”

We reworked her presentation, and the next time around she received an overwhelmingly positive response — a clear indication that the audience got it!

I recently led a series of presentation skills workshops for a large local company. After the first session, the 10 participants each were asked to outline and rehearse their assigned talk before the next class.

On presentation day, one of the participants bragged that he had needed no preparation. He claimed he was a much better speaker just shooting from the hip. But after his presentation, we replayed the video. He saw for himself that he wasn’t nearly as clear, concise or compelling as he’d thought. After that, he realized the value of preparation and began taking the time to outline and practice his presentations.

Tips to help stay on target:

* Start with the end in mind. When preparing your content, identify your goal, then work backward from there. Once you know where you want to go, you can come up with a plan — an outline that leads to your goal. Presenters are like tour guides who take listeners through the perplexing jungle of information to a clearly predetermined destination.
* Know your audience. Take the time to learn about your audience. Who are they? What do they know? What do they want or need to learn from you? What matters most to them?
* Script key elements. To ensure you communicate the critical aspects of your message with maximum clarity, you must script it. With practice, you’re much more likely to have a natural, likable and compelling delivery.
* Paint pictures. A picture is worth a thousand words. Use broad-appeal analogies or create simple charts or graphs that can make it easy for your audience to understand complex information. Be sure to use a “test audience” to ensure this particular part of your talk is hitting the mark. Even one or two colleagues can provide important “listener” feedback.
* Practice. Never leave your presentation to chance. This greatly increases the risk of missing your presentation mark. Don’t procrastinate. Give yourself plenty of time to practice aloud well in advance of the presentation. Smart presenters get sufficient rest the night before they present.
* Record yourself. When you are presenting, it is impossible to be listener and speaker simultaneously. If you don’t have a colleague or coach to help you reach your presentation target, make an audio or video recording. You can evaluate where you are and refine elements of your presentation that are missing the mark.
* Get into it. Share your energy and passion. If you appear bored and disinterested, your audience will be as well. An engaged audience will stay with you.