Let’s face it, no matter what your business is, or who you work for, the chances are that you’ve been on the receiving end of bad presentations. My working definition of a bad presentation here is one that costs more than it saves or makes for the organization involved. If it’s a business presentation, that’s obviously the company employing whoever the presentation involves – there’s always (almost always) someone who’s responsible.

Of course, it’s hard to work out how much a presentation will save or make for the organization in the long run: on the other hand, the costs are pretty easy to calculate. Firstly take the hourly rate of pay for everyone in the room and double it – because that’s what it costs the company. Now add the double-day-rate costs for each hour the presenter spent getting things ready. Finally, add the obvious costs for room rent, refreshments and any travel costs for everyone. It won’t be long before such presentations begin to cost thousands of dollars an hour. And that’s before you add in the costs of lowered productivity and damaged moralle.

And yet a cost-effective presentation isn’t difficult. You don’t have to be great – just good enough to justify your costs!

All a presenter has to do in a presentation is think of two things.

  • What do I need to tell my audience?
  • How do I need to tell them it?

Whatever else you do, or don’t do in your presentation should be measured up against those two simple criteria. The Devil is in the details, of course, and sometimes it’s hard to know how to answer those two questions – to be honest, most presenters don’t even bother to ask them so if you do, you’ve a good chance of being a cost-effective presenter.

Less is more

The more a presenter tells his or her audience, the less chance there is of them remembering any given thing they’re told. With that in mind, it’s not hard to get the idea that you should filter out everything – and I mean everything – that isn’t your absolute core message.

For every slide, for every paragraph, every image, ask yourself, one slide at a time, “Does this give my audience something they need to know?” If it does, fine. If it doesn’t, ditch it. Once you’ve done that filtering, give yourself a break that’s long enough to mean you come back to the material with a fresh mind-set – and do another filter.

Two hours doing something else is minimum. Two filters is usually enough because of the next point.

Too much is never enough

Only experts make presentations. By definition if you’re giving the presentation you know more about your presentation than anyone else. That almost always means you know more about the material, too, so don’t be put off by thinking other people know more than you do. That’s great. What it can mean, if you’re not careful, however, is that you begin to take things for granted that your audience needs to know.

They won’t know your jargon, they won’t know your workings and they won’t know any of your assumptions, that is unless you tell them.

Once you’ve done your filtering do your checking for assumptions. Just like you went through every slide and every paragraph and every image, go through them again and ask yourself what each is built on. If it’s not built on the previous paragraph or slide then at the very least it’s in the wrong place.

More likely, however, is the problem that you’ve taken something for granted, something that your audience probably won’t know about. You need to put that – whatever it is – into your presentation.

What’s next?

Not much, to be honest – there’s a whole load of tips and tricks for moving your presentations from ‘good enough’ to ‘good’ but from the point of view of your boss, ‘good enough’ is exactly that. And you can bet your bottom dollar that your boss measures ‘good enough’ as not costing more than it’s worth.

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