Delivering sales presentations and public speeches can be a tall order for many executives. As a Professional Speaker and Executive Public Speaking Coach, I can fully understand why.

On one end, stepping up on stage for many is akin to putting yourself out there in a vulnerable manner. From the audience’s point of view, everything is amplified. Whether it’s your nervous fidgets, awkward micro-expressions or pause fillers (“erm”, “you know”, “actually”), it all leads to your audience making their own subjective judgments as to whether your subject matter or yourself is worth them investing their time to continually listen to what you can offer, or not.

But don’t be too fast to hold a grudge against them. Chances are, you’ll do the same if you’re in the audience’s seat, won’t you?

And that’s not all. If you’re an accomplished corporate or start-up executive, it is almost an explicit expectation that when you’re invited on stage, you need to manage your nerves and also, provide value, engagement and that flavour of originality in your delivery.

After coaching over 50 executive clients individually, training over 1,500 clients in presentation skills and analysing over 200 corporate presentations and talks, I’ve noticed patterns on what works and what doesn’t.

In this post, let me share with you what I believe are the “3 Major Mistakes Speakers and Content Experts Make When Delivering Sales Presentations and Public Speeches”.

These mistakes typically happen chronologically and they are:

1. You Don’t Frame

Framing is really about setting a context for your audience in a manner that allows them to be willing and able to receive your content and to a deeper level, to empower you to challenge and shape certain of their paradigms.

For this to happen, they need to recognize that in your time with them, what you are sharing with them is first, relevant to them and then, important to them.

The more vivid you draw the picture out for them and relate to their deepest needs, fears and concerns, the stronger the impetus they’ll have to invest in your presentation.

(Sharing about importance of ‘Framing’ in my Platform Selling Workshop)

Think about it this way – an analogy I used in my recent workshop about this concept about framing relates to roasting a chicken.

We all love roasted chickens, don’t we all?

We’d savour the heavenly flavoured gravy as they roll off the succulent flesh onto our palate. When it’s done well, you are present to the multitude of flavours.

But the chicken would not have ended up in such a prime state had it not been “framed” or in the culinary sense, marinated. The chicken had to be cleaned of its gunk and innards, layered with the necessary spices and flavouring, massaged to ensure the tenderness of the meat and left for the essence of the garnishes to permeate into the bird, before it meets the blazing heat of an oven for divine change to occur.

(The Audience Engagement Continuum – identifies your relative audience states)

Now, think of how when you’re delivering a sales presentation or speech, your audience may or may not be receptive to what you’re offering. At best, they are attentive and keen. At worst, they may be cynical about your subject matter and even, yourself.

I’ve fleshed out the “four deadly audience archetypes” in detail within a blog post I written previously so have a read to find out if these audience types sound familiar to you.

But the bottom line is that through your presentation and speech, you’ll be selling your product, service or a belief to your audience. This process involves a behavioural change and like how a chicken needs to marinated to a “prime state” and be put under the heat, your audience will not want it and get it if you don’t frame and prime them up to be so!

Worse still, there may be segments of your audience who may actually be non-receptive to what you can offer. If you do not assuage these groups of audience, you risk them extending their spread.

Suppose, a noxious member of the audience interjects you midway, puts you down and you aren’t able to swiftly and appropriately defuse the tension? How will that affect the rest of the audience?

Hence in working with my clients, I ensure they address all segments of the audience and enroll them into the conversation. If there is an “elephant in the room” that needs addressing, say it out loud, clear and early. Audience these days buy into authenticity and courage more than scripted lines and canned humour.

With the pre-designed priming scripts and frameworks I provide for my clients, I make sure they answer the critical questions all audience will have at the start of any presentation and speech:

  1. Why am I here and should continually be here? (Context)
  2. What’s in it for me? (Stake)
  3. How can you help me? (Solution alignment)

Failing to frame your audience up properly can be disastrous and wildly selfish. And you end up not just wasting your time, but that of your audience! So never assume your audience is and will be interested and engaged.

2. You Don’t Sustain

We live in a world of distractions, period. We are more connected than ever and yet, also more scattered than ever, in our day-to-day lives if we do not practise being present in the here and now.

Dr. John Medina in his book, Brain Rules, started out curiously asking his college students,

“Given a class of medium interest, not too boring and not too exciting, when do you start glancing at the clock, wondering when the class will be over?”

The response will be tepid at the start with a few muffled laughs and eventually someone will blurt out, “10 minutes”.

(Dr. John Medina’s 10-minutes Rule – visualized)

After conducting and corroborating with peer-reviewed studies in the field of neuroscience, Dr. Medina’s hypothesis suggested that it indeed takes only 10 minutes for the average person to lose attention in a classroom or workshop setting. Suffice to say, the “death by Powerpoint” strategy is a silent but swift killer.

Coupled with what I’ve shared previously on the importance of delivering massive relevant value to your audience, I’ve came up with a 2-by-2 matrix that allows you to identify how effective you are as a speaker or presenter.

(The Engagement-Value (E-V) Frame – helps you identify your strengths and areas of growth)

My deep belief is that we are in the age of infinite distractions and if you are a speaker or presenter, it is your role to enroll and constantly enroll your audience into a conversation that’s important for them. And that can only be done if you manage to deliver value laced with deep engagement, or in simpler terms, “edu-tainment”

Since every client is unique, I typically strategize with them on what are the engagement tools they can deploy based on audience effectiveness and their personal styles.

To ensure you sustain in presentations and speeches, consider breaking your engagements into 10-minutes chunks and vary the following:

  1. Pace of speaking (Hurried, measured, pauses)
  2. Mode of presentation – story, humour, rhetorical tools, video, props, song, activity, sharing, personal reflection etc.
  3. Focus of presentation (I-You ratio)
  4. Language of presentation (Rational and emotional)

Nancy Duarte, a LinkedIn Influencer and author of several bestselling titles of presentations and slide design, delves deeper into the language of presentation in the following chart.

(Nancy Duarte on ‘Analytical and Emotional Content’)


Additionally, I authored and contributed a guest post previously on Your Ultimate Presentation Guide: 21 Ways to Deliver Interesting and Engaging Presentations’ so it’ll be a good “cheat-sheet” of sorts, before your next key presentation!

3. You Don’t Close

To close is to end off. To make a conclusion. To take action.

As how ‘closing’ is used frequently within the sales lingo, I define ‘closing’ in presentations and speeches as,

“Eliciting a definite and immediate action or commitment to act, as a form of culmination of your presentation”

We all know that the most memorable segments of presentations and speeches occur at the start and the end.

How you enthral and captivate us constitutes the ‘opening’ and how you will lead us to an emotional climax and motivate us to take the leap of the faith, often happens at the close of a presentation or speech.

Yet, I know, not all executives are delivering their own renditions of Martin Luther King Jr’s ‘I Have a Dream’ with an intent to move their audience towards taking arms at ending slavery.

(Sharing about importance of ‘Closing’ in a tongue-in-cheek fashion with a member of the audience, Cynthia during my Platform Selling Workshop)

But in the context of sales presentations and public speeches, you are once again, inherently selling your product, service or a belief. Now if you have successfully avoided the two mistakes mentioned previously, your audience is ideally at a state where they are enrolled into the conversation and are cognizant of a need for change.

By ending your presentation off with “thank you, it’s my pleasure to be here” or “do you have any questions for me” as a final parting note before leaving the podium is a cop-out and to not take leadership as a speaker on stage!

When you speak, you lead.

Dr. Nick Morgan, one of America’s top communication coaches, goes as far as to suggest that,

“The Only Reason to Give a Speech Is to Change the World”

Your role is to galvanize your audience to take action and that applies whether you’re speaking about workplace health and safety, the need for corporate governance and responsibility or the advent of digital media and the opportunities that it delivers to global organizations!

So, do your audience a favour.

Don’t assume, again, what is often untrue and unrealistic. Don’t be lulled into the belief that your audience will know exactly what you want them to do with the new knowledge and insights you have delivered.

Tell them what you want them to do, exactly.

Whether it’s to stand up and make a public declaration or to write down 3 actions they’ll take henceforth or to decide to say “yes” or “no” to your commercial offer, you take the initiative in these “uncomfortable” conversations because when you speak, you lead.

Question: In the past 30 days, have you made these mistakes in your presentations and speeches? If not, share with me what are the other critical mistakes you’ve noticed whether as a speaker yourself, or part of an audience.

This post is also published on my LinkedIn here

21 Ways to Delivering Engaging & Effective Presentations

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