Monday, 19 May 2014

What is it that makes so many business presentations so boring? And what’s the (magic) trick to overcoming the affliction?

I was chatting recently with someone who had just sat through a whole day’s worth of dreary business presentations. “The trouble is”, he said, “that most people are fundamentally rather boring”. 

I could have gone with the flow and simply agreed with him, but I like to look at life in a more positive way than that and, anyway, I think the situation is a little more complicated. I explained my belief that many people climbing the corporate ladder feel they have to default to a certain type of corporate persona, with the result that they fail to make a significant impact and come across as rather boring. 

In my time as a PR consultant I was constantly frustrated when having to deal with the underlings of real decision makers. They never ventured to tell you what they actually thought themselves. Instead they told you what their boss would probably think; and because they were acting like rabbits caught in a headlight, they invariably got it wrong, making them even more timid in future. This situation becomes markedly worse when they come to do a presentation – they are ‘on show’ to people with influence on their careers so they switch into corporate mode – a bland version of themselves that smothers their personality.

In many cases the switch into corporate mode comes automatically and without the speaker really being aware of it. A very senior IT executive I was coaching recently told me that the feedback he invariably receives is: “you were great in all the meetings and they loved you at the lunch, but when you did the presentation you became really boring”.

In the words of Mark Lee, a fellow member of The Magic Circle who advises Accountants on developing their careers and businesses, ‘boring is optional’. You really don’t have to be like that and there are so many benefits to letting your personality show through.

Anyone presenting a magic trick as part of their coaching in 

Presentation Skills is asked to sign a secrecy agreement 
- to ensure that Nick does not transgress 
The Magic Circle's strict rules
The good news is that you can be cured of slipping into corporate mode and my own treatment often includes getting the ‘patient’ to present a magic trick. Coaching sessions start with the patient giving a business presentation, which allows me to assess the severity of their condition and where the treatment should focus. Then I ask them to present a simple trick – tailored to their own company. Compared with their business presentation earlier a number of changes become immediately apparent:

  • Their body language loosens up
  • They show greater energy and enthusiasm
  • A smile comes to their face and that can be heard in their voice
  • They need to interact with their audience, so they start thinking seriously about the clarity of what they are saying and how to display visual aids to best effect
  • Furthermore, they discover that they can communicate without the crutch of PowerPoint
  • They tell us about themselves – so we warm to them and they become more convincing as a result
  • Above all, they realise that the success of the trick depends on a ‘ta-dah’ moment at the climax that they want their audience to remember and talk about

All they need to do then is to apply some of those lessons to their business presentation – in particular the one about building to a ‘ta-dah’ moment that everyone is going to remember and talk about. Back in the world of business presentations this is known as a ‘Call to Action’, which needs to be focused and crystal clear; if it’s not, your presentation is likely to be worthless. Imagine, therefore, how powerful your presentation could be if its Call to Action was as memorable as the climax of a magic trick!

The German translation of Nick Fitzherbert's book 
Presentation Magic was published in April 2014

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