3 traps to avoid in presentations

Blais Pascal famously wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” Like Pascal,most salespeople have an inability to keep to the point. My research shows that over 75% of all customer presentations are too long, disjointed, irrelevant or are simply boring. A national retail executive once shared with me: “Most sales presentation put me to sleep or create a trance-like state. They rarely capture my attention.” Do you want to be perceived as valuable and distinct? Get to the point.

A few years ago, Microsoft uncovered that the average attention span has fallen 33%, from 12 seconds to eight seconds. We now live in a world where capturing one’s attention is an invaluable art form. The clear majority of people are still stuck in “PowerPoint thinking,” a regimented and overblown approach to communication. But the best communicators are true, concise, and flexible. Are you able to get to the point and hold another’s attention? Research proves you may not be as good as you think.

On average, people spend 60% of conversations talking about themselves. Those people are lost at sea and don’t even know it. I have discovered three big communication traps:

Brilliant writers share one thing: extreme editing. They unapologetically and mercilessly cut any unnecessary elements. Communications must remain minimal, clear, and thoughtful. While most of us aren’t routinely exposed to merciless editors, if you ever get to see their process you’ll realize there is always an opportunity to cut. Trim the fat from your discussions – learn brevity.

2. Unreadiness
Want to be irrelevant? Don’t prepare properly. Under-promising and over-performing is the most proven, yet least practiced, adage today. There is nothing worse than someone who shows up for a discussion and doesn’t understand your needs, agenda, or communication preference. The best communicators think like surgeons, diagnosing the situation (and context) before they prescribe a solution.

3. Isolation
Stretching is inherently uncomfortable. To be present and receptive in a room full of people is an incredibly difficult feat. The best communicators are in the moment with you, adapting their communication style to be congruent with yours, no matter if you’re alone or with a whole team. It’s not about them, it’s about you. In a word, they are highly present.
Mark Twain wrote, “It usually takes me two or three days to prepare an impromptu speech.” The best presentations (or discussions) have no fluff. They have been edited down to the essence of the message. Keep the tangents to the dinner table with old friends. Anyone can give a 30-slide presentation; very few can share an idea with precision in one slide. The more concise the presentation, the more time necessary to create it.

Rather than falling into the three traps, ask yourself three questions:

  1. Is your communication simple, clear, and direct?
  2. Is it natural, conversational, and relatable?
  3. Can you grab someone’s attention and still make your point is less than 60 seconds?

A long, monotonous presentation is a crutch and is distracting and ineffective. Don’t talk just fill up others time with words. Learn to pause, reflect, and listen. In other words, quit making so much noise and listen more.

One must create a compelling sales story that is simple, experiential, and unique while capturing another’s attention.  Don’t let needless details detract from your message. Uncover the soul of your message.

Dan Mack is a strategist, advisor and coach to numerous companies; the founder of the Elevation Forum leadership group, and co-founder of the New General Market Summit providing insight to many of today’s top growth companies.  His first book is  “Dark Horse: How Challenger Companies Rise to Prominence.”

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