As an Executive Public Speaking Coach and Professional Speaker, my job is to sit through presentations and dissect them. Having evaluated over 150 speeches and presentations, there are certain gaps in business presentations that keep surfacing time after time for many top business leaders and executives I coach.

Michael Bay's Meltdown

(Michael Bay’smeltdown’ at Samsung Press Conference, Jan 2014)

Why does it happen?

It could be a lack of awareness (because frankly, no many people in their firm or circles are both able and willing to speak the truth to them), skills and knowledge to get better (hence, they engage a coach) or understanding of how poorly-delivered business presentations hurt their firm, professional and personal brand and ultimately, themselves.

The clients I’ve worked with are typically Directors and C-level executives who have scored big like securing USD$8 billion national level deals to investment pitches for USD$500k to USD$2million funding to having a client make a USD$40,000 investment decision with nothing more than an hour presentation.

I may be biased, but with the meetings and conferences I attend as well as anecdotal evidence from the clients I work with, following are the ‘7 Deadly Mistakes Top Business Leaders Are Making In Their Business Presentations’

1. Lack of Clarity of Speech and Presentation Outcomes

In the same way there is a strategy to achieve your business objectives as the leader of your own firm, there is a specific and step-by-step framework to clarifying and identifying the outcomes of your speech and presentation and ensuring that message is driven home to the audience to achieve those outcomes.

Many business presenters often assume an “auto-pilot” mode when they are being called to deliver speeches and presentations on stage.They say ‘yes’ and then deliver the same canned presentation they made a year ago.

As a result, they appear either unprepared or irrelevant. At best, your audience pay deference to you given your business stature. At worst, they start ranting about your brand and yourself on social media.

You don’t want to wait for the backlash to hit you for you to do the work to find out who your audience are and what they really want and need to hear from you.

2. Too Much Information (TMI)

Do you know that according to latest neuroscience research, it takes only 10 minutes for the average man to drift off from a presentation, especially if no measures are taken to vary the pace, mode and content of delivery.

If you are operating in a highly technical or skill-specific industry, chances are your presentations may be peppered with technical jargon, elaborates processes and complex frameworks. In this world we are living in, you are leaving a lot to chance and assuming that your audience will get it. The truth is — they often don’t and will not stand up and clarify because others may perceive them as stupid. So you end up with an audience that is lost and disengaged.

No, we don’t always get what you mean when you utter terms and jargon like TCO, ROA, NPAT, Arbitrage or Balloon Payment. (Caveat: this may not apply to you if and only if, everyone in the room is equally or more informed and educated to understand and appreciate the information and to connect the dots in a short period of time)

3. Lack of Engagement

A study (‘Watson Wyatt Effective Communication 2009/2010 ROI Study Report) by Towers Watson (then Watson Wyatt) revealed —

Companies that communicate effectively had a 47% higher return to shareholders over a five-year period (mid-2004 to mid-2009)

Enlightened business executives know that being on stage is a platform to influence and persuade. The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) for example, is when new innovations are made known to the world and the golden opportunity for evangelizing, lies.

The next time you step on stage to deliver a speech and presentation and you find your audience disengaged (drifting off, distracted, restless and looking uninterested), think what that can possibly translate for your firm: lost business opportunities, inability for your brand to engage the mass and social media in the desired manner, decline in long term brand equity, loss of faith in your competency from your industry, subordinates and even, top management in your firm.

Once again, the stakes are never higher than before.

4. Poor or No Attempt at Storytelling

I know, as with most senior executives I coach, you will retort,

“But I am a senior executive and business leader. I just need to get my points across and I don’t want to make a fool of myself by being an animated storytelling guy!”

Yet, do you know that strategic storytelling is being leveraged to drive business cases worldwide and hence, sales, for global brands like Apple, P&G, Coca Cola, Facebook and are also increasingly incorporated into senior executive education programs?

If you can’t tell a story effectively, and worst, your corporate story, you risk coming off as an executive or an extension of firm who is not congruent with your firm’s corporate values and proposition.

Guess what that does to your credibility?

5. Negative Self-talk

Put it simply, delivering a speech or presentation on stage can be an emotionally stressful experience. I know it often enough when I have my executive clients breaking down during our coaching sessions and then later, picking themselves up with clarity to move forward stronger.

Are you conscious of what you say to yourself when you go up on stage? Interestingly, the “self-talk” you have with yourself on stage may also be the same when you are off stage, achieving your strategic objectives on a daily basis.

The worst thing that can happen is when your negative perceptions of yourself create the exact reality that you fear.

Some of the common negative “self-talk” that I’ve surfaced with my clients include — “I am not interesting”, “they won’t understand me”, “I need someone else to get this point across”, “I don’t have the range to engage them”

What you are subconsciously attuned to, will indeed determine your audience reality, on stage.

Take control of that.

6. Lack of Individuality and Personal Flavour

The issue here is ‘memorability’. Even if you’re a C-level executive, you need to stand out in your industry and within the firm to get attention, for the right agenda.

The stage is a powerful platform to do so but a lot of executives just passed off as too straitjacketed and “uninteresting”.

This happens because it takes you out of your comfort zone to let your individuality guide your presentation. And in some cases, most executives whom I coached don’t even know how exactly to inject their individuality and flair of presenting into their presentations.

As a result, you fall into the ‘disengagement’ trap and are not remembered or worse, remembered as ‘yet another corporate CEO who reads off his script’. This will not bode well especially if you are trying to influence your employees, shareholders and clients to gain their buy-in for the long run.

7. Lack of Call to Action

All speeches and presentations need to have a specific and actionable outcome, period. A question I’ll always ask my executive clients in,

“What is one thing your audience can apply, as early as tomorrow?”

Many times, executive presenters think their role is to just deliver information, inform of trends and decode what is complex. But what’s really important for you to get as an executive speaker or presenter is that, your core role on stage is to sell and evangelize.

If you leave your audience on a cliffhanger or a standard closer, “It was great speaking to all of you”, you have just failed at your task at selling. When you have delivered an engaging presentation, your audience is really asking at the back of their mind,

“So, what now?”

Your role is to point to the gap and offer the solution.

If you are not helping your audience to improve their lives in one way or the other, then you have just wasted your 45mins or hour on stage and worst, the collective time your audience has invested in you.

These 7 mistakes are prevalent across most of my executive clients that span over 10 different industries, to date. And I want to remind you that just because everyone else is making the mistake, doesn’t mean that you should.

What are other mistakes have you seen by business leaders on stage?

This post will be shared in my LinkedIn profile. If you like to connect with me, just drop me a note or LinkedIn connection request. My email is mail@benjaminloh.sg

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