Executive Presentations: Why Don’t Leaders Risk?

Executive presentations don't have to be boring

Executive presentations can cause organizational concern, and when done poorly, they should. Many of you have expressed astonishment that an executive going out of the office to give a presentation was not always supported or in fact encouraged. It is sad but true; many organizations have not caught on that we live in the information age, the age of personal communication.

So Why Are They Afraid Of Executive Presentations?

The main fear about executive presentations has to do with their own comfort level about public speaking.

  1. They fear that the company representative will be as bad as other presenters they suffer through, and want to avoid the company being associated with that kind of experience.
  2. They fear that a poor executive presentation will cause a share price drop and create a public relations nightmare.

Bad PowerPoint Isn’t the Main Problem

Often PowerPoint has been made a scapegoat, and has gotten an undeservedly bad reputation. To be honest, I myself have knocked this tool (and I’ve sat through quite a few presentations), when my scorn should have been directed at really bad writing/scripts or very poor delivery. A successful presentation is not just dependent on software, it also the writer and the delivery.

And it’s an important distinction; we can’t alter PowerPoint or other presentation software, but we can do much to improve the quality of projects using these tools. For your next executive presentation, consider taking a whole new approach.

If you doubt the impact an executive presentation can make, consider the story of Palm, Inc. The one-time leader in handheld computers has fallen on hard times. With the advent of Smartphones, Palm’s market share has dwindled along with their product line. Then, with one brief slide show at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2009, Palm was suddenly the talk of the tech blogs and seemingly resurrected as a company.

How did they pull it off? Basically, Palm gave a great slideshow and executive presentation, and put themselves back into business competition.

See the Palm Presentation

Informational Storytelling

While you and your staff probably don’t have a large team at your disposal like Palm does, there are still some tips and strategies you can share. For one, notice how Palm’s Jon Rubinstein, like Apple CEO Steve Jobs, treats the presentation like a story.

Rather than simply spouting facts about the new phone, he employs narrative (storytelling) to connect listeners to the device on a more personal level – a marvelous marketing strategy involving the audience, and an effective technique you can adopt, the next time you appear before the board or your customer.

Evocative Images Over Words

Also, take note of the slide style. With sparse text, the presentation uses full-screen images to convey the ideas being shared. This technique can help presenters avoid the dreaded turn-and-read maneuver while also helping the audience stay focused on what you are saying.

Palm isn’t the only one to benefit from a radical update to their presentation style. Al Gore’s famed slide show, the basis for the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, was similarly refined to help strengthen the message.

In the end, we can start with our staff in restoring some dignity to the slide presentation. So why not ditch traditional PowerPoint conventions and introduce your staff and yourself to informational storytelling. Instead of creating slideshows with tedious bullets, for example, detailing an animal’s habitat, diet, size, etc. (assignments that only serve to reinforce bad research and presentation), have people present inspired reports that offer more than dry facts.

Exercise those right-brain skills by having them find images to represent characters or parts of the story. Slides should contain no more than four words; powerful presentations are all about images, key ideas, and the speaker’s words.

Down With Boring Presentations!

I hope you will consider joining with me in two pledges. First, let’s stop knocking PowerPoint, the program. Next, let’s stand up and say no to the same old boring executive presentations. Don’t get wrapped up in the tool, focus on the speaker and his or her ideas instead. PowerPoint or another program can help, but in the end, they are just tools that help us show up and speak up.

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