5 Common Mistakes That Will Doom Your Presentation to #Fail
Last week I had lunch with a client just moments after she’d finished pitching her company to a really important prospect—one that she’d been wooing for over a year. I was anxious to hear how the pitch went, because I knew that this opportunity was MASSIVE for growing her business.
But the moment she walked into the restaurant where we’d agreed to meet, I knew things had not gone as planned.
“Please just shoot me,” she said, sitting down and burying her face in her hands. She paused there, trying to collect herself for a few moments, then banged her fist on the table before meeting my gaze with eyes that said, “I blew it.”
I assured her that she was probably being too hard on herself.
“No, Marta—I totally blew it. It could not have gone any worse.”
She paused, ordered a double vodka on the rocks, and continued.
“We weren’t even five minutes in to my presentation before the CEO started pummeling me with questions that totally rattled me. He barely made eye contact. He was checking his phone and answering texts through the ENTIRE meeting. And even though I had three incredible concepts that my team worked around the clock for weeks to create, I never even got to share them!”
The vodka had arrived and she took a healthy gulp before grabbing my arm and whispering, “I am so screwed right now. I should have listened to you.”
If you’ve ever had an experience like this one, you know how gut-wrenching it is to walk into a high-stakes opportunity—that you’ve poured hundreds of hours to create—only to walk away empty-handed, deflated, and feeling like a failure.
Don’t despair. I’ve got you covered.
After analyzing and creating thousands of pitch decks and presentations, and studying the best of the best, I’ve identified the five biggest, most common mistakes that doom most of them to failure.
And I’ve got the “fix” for every one of them, which I’ve detailed for you below.
THE 5 COMMON MISTAKES THAT DOOM MOST PRESENTATIONS TO FAILURE (& HOW TO AVOID THEM)
MISTAKE #1: Starting With Slides (Instead of a Story!)
The first thing that most people do when they have a big pitch or presentation looming is to fire up PowerPoint. They’ll start with their “standard deck” or corporate template, or they’ll pull slides from other presentations and then fill in the gaps with some content that is specific to the audience with whom they’ll be speaking.
The problem is that slides don’t tell your story. YOU do!
Which is why I suggest—no, I INSIST—that you start with your story, not your slides.
Stories are incredibly powerful for a whole bunch of reasons.
For starters, they have structure—aka: a clear beginning, middle, and end.
Most PowerPoint presentations don’t.
Sure, they have a lot of “content,” but without structure, your audience has to work to figure out what the core message is… which makes it difficult to engage them, to keep their attention, and to inspire action.
When you start crafting a pitch or presentation with the slides instead of the story, you’re more likely to meander, bury your core message, and end up like that friend who takes 20 minutes to tell you about “the big family drama last weekend,” because she keeps going off on tangents about her mother’s cooking, her sister-in-law’s botched boob job, and why it’s so damn hard to find a parking spot in Charlestown after 5pm… what was the point again?
Storytelling is a powerful tool for capturing and keeping someone’s attention—in any kind of conversation.
Stories help us to relate and to remember.
Slides, on the other hand, tend to overload us with information. We don’t “relate” to them, and we rarely remember them.
So don’t start prepping for that next pitch with slides.
Start with THE STORY.
MISTAKE #2: Assuming the Audience Absorbs Everything You Say
It’s perfectly natural to assume that your audience will absorb 100% of the content you share with them. (Or at least… 50%?)
But the truth is that they’ll only hear, understand, and more importantly—remember—just a small fraction of what you share.
Think about your favorite book, movie, or tv show. Do you really recall every detail of the plot? Every sentence the main character utters?
Of course not.
What you DO remember are the key plot points, the conflicts, the emotional moments—and probably the story “bookends” aka the beginning and the ending.
Applying this simple truth to your next pitch or presentation means this:
Assume that most people will only remember ONE key point or idea. Make that point CRYSTAL clear.
Repeat and reinforce it with examples, evocative visuals, and powerful language.
If my client had remembered this piece of advice before she went into that pitch meeting, she wouldn’t be drinking vodka at 1pm on a Tuesday—she’d be corking open some celebratory champagne!
MISTAKE #3: Cramming Too Much Stuff on Each Slide
Most of us are guilty of packing slides with WAY too much stuff.
We try to cram in every little thing—a title, supporting text, a picture, a chart, a logo, some data, a URL…
But you know what happens when you see a slide like this one?
Your brain gets overloaded.
You have to read everything. Then try to make sense of it.
And then focus on and remember… what?
If you want your audience to understand and remember something, you’ve got to make it as SIMPLE and as CLEAR as possible. You’ve got to rip out anything that’s not absolutely essential to moving them toward the action you want them to take.
You’ve got to make it EASY for them to grasp your core point.
And that won’t happen if you clutter your slides with “noise” that only adds to the… SQUIRREL!!!
MISTAKE #4: Starting with the Agenda Start Slide (aka “the A.S.S.”)
Most of us were taught that the best way to give a presentation is like so:
Step 1: Tell them what you’re going to tell them.
Step 2: Tell them.
Step 3: Tell them what you’ve told them.
This common “wisdom” is what leads most presentations and pitches to open with the infamous Agenda Start Slide—or the “A.S.S.”
I’m going to be blunt here. The A.S.S. is stupid. It suggests one or all of the following:
A. Your audience is too stupid (or too ignorant) to understand what you’re going to be speaking about… even though they agreed to meet with you or attend your presentation for a specific purpose.
B. You are either too stupid (or too lazy) to craft a compelling story that hooks your audience immediately… and you’re going to waste the first five minutes of your pitch telling them stuff they already know.
To all of this, I say: WHAT THE F**K?!
Your audience is most attentive during the first 10-20 seconds of your pitch. Why waste it on stating the obvious?
Skip the “ASS” and open with a compelling story or a thought-provoking question instead.
MISTAKE #5: Winging It
I’m always amazed at how little “rehearsing” goes into the average pitch.
Just last week, I saw an executive give a presentation with a BEAUTIFUL slide deck… but the pitch was a total flop, because he clearly hadn’t rehearsed.
He fidgeted. He rambled. He said things like, “I’m delighted to be here,” without even a hint of delight in his voice (or his face). His language was littered with jargon and qualifying phrases like “kind of,” “sort of,” “a little bit.”
And don’t even get me started on how many times he said “Um” and “you know?”
Don’t be that guy.
Take the advice I give my ACE THE PITCH students:
Devote one third of your “prep time” to crafting your story; one third to creating your slides; and one third to rehearsing.
Use PowerPoint’s handy “Presenter View” or one of the many awesome teleprompter apps available these days—or even good old-fashioned note cards(!) to remind you of the key points you plan to cover.
But for heaven’s sake PRACTICE.
Practice MORE than you think you should.
Not only will all that practice help you nail down, refine, and improve your story, but it will also build your confidence, so that when you’re in front of that really important client, you DON’T end up like my vodka-slugging friend.
Now go out there and ACE your next pitch!