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You have a great idea you know is a winner. All you need is support from some key people. You prepare your material, get some PowerPoint slides together and make your presentation,
Phut! No interest. No questions. No support.
What went wrong?
These are the ten commonest mistakes presenters make and how to correct them.
1. You didn't take time to define your audience clearly and address them personally.
Your audience has one question in their minds all the time: "What's in this for me?" If you don't answer it obviously, they tune out.
Be clear about your audience and aim your pitch solely at them. Anyone else is a bonus.
2. You opened your presentation with the idea itself.
Always lead with the clearest, most powerful benefit to that specific group.
Which would you listen to first?
"I'm going to talk to you about some new ideas in presentation technique."
"Here's a simple way to make your audience eager to buy into your ideas."
You must get people to pay attention. What grabs them? A sure-fire solution a problem they know they have. Not an idea they can't see how to use yet.
3. You took too long to get to the point and gave too much detailed explanation.
People's attention span is short. You either catch them fast or you don't catch them at all.
Don't work up to the key issues. Get to the point. Forget explanations until you have their interest. Once hooked, they'll listen. Until then, they won't.
4. You didn't get all your key points in quickly and people lost interest.
List your key points at the start, right after you've caught their attention with big, specific benefits.
Present your points starting with the most important. Always begin with the essentials. If people get bored, they'll still have heard the most important points.
5. You were wordy, you didn't sound confident and you went off at tangents.
Brevity breathes authority. Don't waste your audience's attention on anything that isn't essential.
Less is nearly always more. Cut it to the minimum. If people have unanswered questions, give time for them at the end. You can end on a high note, not the typical embarrassed wait for someone--anyone--to ask something.
6. You didn't stick to a single message.
Every additional message causes an earlier one to be forgotten.
What do you want the audience to hear? Say it clearly and with confidence...then shut up.
7. You didn't work on building a fan base first.
It's easier to present with fans in the audience to support you. Brief them in advance and encourage them to come along as supporters. Nothing convinces people as much as seeing others already convinced.
8. You didn't practice enough.
If you're not presentation perfect in practice conditions, performance stress will make you into an idiot.
If you're using technology, assume it's going to break down or mess up.
People who aren't properly prepared easily get anxious and nervous people aren't convincing.
9. You got the timing wrong.
Don't schedule your presentation when key people have something else on their minds. Don't hold it on Monday morning (they're dreading what they'll find on their desks) or Friday afternoon (what are you planning for the weekend?).
10. You didn't give them time to grasp your idea.
How fast can they take it in? Who else will they want to consult? Catch their attention, explain only what you have to explain, remind them of the big benefits, then sit down and let them think about it.
Never push for a decision unless you're sure it's the one you want. As long as the decision is open, you can make another attempt.
Follow this advice and next time you'll have an audience that will be right behind you.
Adrian W. Savage writes for people who want help with the daily dilemmas they face at work. He has contributed more than 25 articles to leading British and American publications and has been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and The Chicago Tribune.
Visit his blog on the ups and downs of business life.
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