3 presentation pitfalls—and how to avoid them

By: Brian Pittman
Published: Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2015

Powerful presentations inspire, inform and entertain. Yet when was the last time you saw one that achieved this elusive trifecta?

Many presentations fall short because of easily remedied mistakes. Here are three common blunders, along with tips for ensuring your next speech, presentation or pitch wows your audience:

1. Numbing with numbers. Most PR presentations include numbers. Yet data and stats can overwhelm or bore audiences. The solution is to dramatize numbers, says Ian Griffin, founder of Executive Communications.

“Don’t just say, ‘There are 100 million people smoking cigarettes,’” he explains. “Say instead, ‘In the time of this presentation, 15,000 people will die of cancer.’ Make the number or statistic relatable to the moment.”

Large numbers can also be depicted visually for their scale to be understood.

For example, the Cisco sales team met a $6 billion revenue target when Griffin worked there. Instead of stating the number verbally during the annual sales team confab, the team leader held up what looked like a $10,000 wad of bills. He said a pallet of the shrink-wrapped bills represented $100 million and that 60 pallets totaled $1 billion.

The kicker came when he suggested that 360 cash-stacked pallets had just been forklifted onto the parking lot. The audience hooted and hollered, recalls Griffin.

Watch the PR University webinar “ Powerful PR presentations: New secrets of persuasive spokespeople, speeches and executive communications ” to learn how to script and deliver dynamic presentations while magnifying messages through social media.

2. Failure to inspire action. Too many presentations focus on communicating key messages, says Griffin. They should instead focus on moving audiences to act.

Enter Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. This method for organizing presentations uses the psychology of persuasion to encourage audiences to act. Follow this structure the next time you plan and script a presentation:

  • Grab audience attention . Open with a quick anecdote, rhetorical question or even a shocking statistic, Griffin advises.
  • Establish a need . State a problem to be solved. For example, “We have a problem in Des Moines. We are being flooded.”
  • Offer a solution . State your recommended solution in a succinct manner. For example, “We need a dam.”
  • Visualize the future . Describe what the future will look like if your solution is—or isn’t—implemented.
  • Close with a call to action . Give your audience something specific it can do to enact your solution. For example, “Contact your representatives to fund the proposal for a dam.”

3. Selling social media short. Many PR pros use social media to promote upcoming presentations or to distribute recordings and handouts after them.

Griffin suggests also using social media to home in on hot buttons before you put pen to paper. Crowd-sourcing LinkedIn Groups is an effective way to find topics, statistics and even stories for speeches and presentations, he says.

He also recommends using social media during presentations to make them more interactive. Most presenters already use Twitter as a back channel during events, but Griffin advises pushing it one step further.

“Poll your audience with a show of hands, and share the results via Twitter,” he says. “This generates immediate feedback and also drives engagement.”

Brian Pittman is a Ragan Communications consultant and webinar manager for PR Daily’s PR University. Ian Griffin shares more in-depth techniques for executive communicators in the PR University webinar, “Powerful PR presentations: New secrets of persuasive spokespeople, speeches and executive communications.

3 presentation pitfalls—and how to avoid them

By: Brian Pittman
Published: Tuesday, Jun. 23, 2015


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