You are not giving great presentations for this reason

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by Todd Mitchem

I have taught many people over the years the art of presentation mastery, from CEOs to new salespeople. While there are many parts to teaching someone how to better connect with their audience, one common theme always arises during my presentation skills course. I call it the “Run-On Presentation,” and it is the reason why you are bored to tears at conferences, want to fall asleep in meetings, and overall can’t stand most speakers.

The Run-On Presentation” is simply a type of presentation, which has a beginning and an end, but every other word between those two points is a vomit of sentences strewn together. These words seem to go on without a thought to flow, design, or context for the benefit of the audience. There is nothing worse than hearing a CEO drone on and on about sales numbers, projections, and some boorishly scripted Run On Presentation that seems not to have a point. I know I am not alone in experiencing sitting down in a two-hour meeting where the leader can’t separate thoughts and makes matters worse by writing every word on a slide presentation that would put even the most addicted coffee lover to sleep. If you are someone who speaks at meetings, on a stage, or to other people in any way (or is responsible for people who do), then this Run On Presentation learning is for you.

Here are my three quick steps to stop the Run On Presentation.

1) What’s the point? – The first step in changing how you speak to others while gaining an added degree of confidence is figuring out what the point is to the entire presentation. Now, I know what you are going to say, “But Todd, I do have a point, and there it is on my slide deck for all to see.” Yes, I see that, but it’s not your point. It is just a topic heading with zero connection to the people to whom you are talking.

When you are presenting to an audience, it is time to be very clear about what they will take away from the presentation and state it in your title directly. What is that central point that all your other words will connect to so that you make a presentation that will stick with the learner? Make the Main Point follow my model of; Clear, Specific, and Supported with information. As an example, is this a pointed title? “Today, we will be discussing our sales numbers.”? NO! This is a statement of fact, but it’s not specific at all. A better, more specific, and clearly pointed topic sounds like this, “Today we will be discussing three strategic opportunities to get our sales numbers up by 20%.” This is a subtle difference, but people are simple when listening to a presentation. If the title right out of the start is not Clear, Specific, and Supported, then…..

 2) Why do I care? – My second step to stopping run on presentations is making sure you know why your presentation matters to the listener. Why do they care at all about this topic? How does it impact them, their day, or their work in any way? These are essential questions to answer to yourself before you ever step up to speak. Run On Presentations often occur when a speaker is merely trying to give an information dump and “check a box” of completion instead of genuinely attempting to land a message. After my skills course, I have even watched clients create a heading on their presentation slide, usually the second one, which simply says, “Why do I care?” Then they talk about why the audience should be paying attention. In other words, the relevancy to the individual listener. The question I am asking you is designed, so you get clear about the presentation in general and its purpose.

 But there is another reason why we ask the “Why do I care?,” question and that is to ensure that as you design your presentation, you are answering this question with every word. By simply writing down this phrase and drafting responses, you are writing a presentation more likely to be more relevant to your audience.

 3) Three is Terrific, Four is Full, Five is Fail – Aside from video recording each participant in my course, this moment of learning is one of the most powerful. The last step to giving an excellent presentation and remove the Run On is to follow this model because it pertains to the number of sub-points you are giving to support your main point. I know you are wondering what this means, so here you go.

  • Three is Terrific means that this is a sweet spot for sup topics under your main point. By limiting yourself to three specific informational supporting sub-points, you are more likely to keep the audience engaged and interested. This format also pushes you to make a more careful selection of your conversation and limits the opportunity to crank up the Run On Presentation.

  • Four is Full – On rare exceptions, I will allow a client to bring in the fourth point. Four points need to be carefully vetted, however, to ensure that the redundancy is removed. Also, studies show that presentation listeners start to mentally drift in a presentation right around the fourth point. So, it’s critical for you to give them the best point, last in the fourth.

  • Five is Fail – Just don’t do it. Don’t. Just stop. All kidding aside, your last segment in a presentation with five sub-points might as well be a throw-away. First off, most presenters who have more than four points are definitely in a pattern of speech that will drop in tonality and speed. The audience will be lost, checking phones and answering emails by this time. Also, an overabundance of sub-topics under your main point will often make the presentation drag on for longer than anticipated, thus eliminating the opportunity for questions, reflection, or remembering.

I hope these three steps to better presentations help you are your journey to becoming a great speaker and stopping the Run On Presentation. We, as a society, are quickly losing our ability to communicate with others because technology has made us lazy minded. With these three steps, however, perhaps I have helped you find a path to be one of the lucky ones who have stepped a little closer to presentation and communication mastery. 

Your career and your audience will thank me later.

(By the way, it works for writing too. I just did the steps in this article.)

About Todd Mitchem

Todd Mitchem is a Author, TED Speaker, Presentation Skills Coach, and Business Leader with over 20 years of combined performance and presentation experience. You can hire Todd to teach your team these skills and more at: AMasterPresenter.com

Todd Mitchem