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Home > Blog > Killing Your Best Ideas with a Lame Presentation
Out of Our Minds
Thursday, February 23, 2006 8:30 PM
Killing Your Best Ideas with a Lame Presentation
David Batstone on Business

Some of the most creative ideas, indeed the most promising business plans, never see the light of day due to poor presentation.

Just this week I witnessed a murder by inept delivery. A services company was pitching the key decision makers at a transnational company on what was truly a dynamic leadership development program. Rather than jump straight to the point, and describe what they would do and how it would result in better company leaders, the pitch men got lost. They opened with a PowerPoint presentation, and took 25 minutes to review general 'leadership theory' that lay at the foundation of their leadership program. Honestly, their lesson on leadership theory offered concepts that reasonably well-informed managers already accepted. No surprise, the decision makers soon got bored, looked at their Blackberry messages, and had that look of a prisoner plotting an escape. By the time the pitch men got to the exciting part of their program, malaise already had set in.

The fatal detour the pitch men took is altogether too common. When you give a pitch, do not share with your audience your deliberation process. Poor presentations typically wallow in details that should be left at the preparation phase.


Get to the sizzle of your offering as quickly as possible, then move backwards (when relevant) to tease out the assumptions that led you to your design. These matters of method best emerge in a discussion period following your presentation.\n\nThe cardinal sin of presentation is to place the key ideas of your pitch on a PowerPoint, then simply read off the screen. I hesitate to even mention this obvious gaffe, but I sit through so many presentations that follow this path to oblivion that it bears mentioning. A media presentation should in some way augment or illustrate what you are presenting in your spoken delivery. A meaningful data chart, for example, might supplement an idea. \nIf something you throw up on screen simply repeats what you are saying, drop it.\n\nMany presentations kill audience attention with generalities. When I was working in the investment banking world, I read a steady diet of executive summaries and sat through countless pitch presentations from companies in search of investment funding. I always got a good chuckle out of the executive summaries that would note a target audience of 220 million for their product in the United States. That's just about every breathing man, woman, and child in the country, of course. In a similar vein, if 50 million people in the USA are actively using the Internet, it is unrealistic to expect 49 million as your target audience. The more specific and tailored your pitch, including your data, the more credibility it will carry. Get across as plainly as you can to your potential client or investor why your offering will make a difference for their niche.\n\nOk, why don't I take my own medicine on being specific! Looping back to my original case study, the pitch men for the leadership training program would have been well served to find out as much about the challenges facing the transnational company that they were pitching. What do employee surveys say about leadership in the company? What major challenges is the market presenting the company; that is, what competitors are on the horizon? What transitions - say, expanding into several new global markets or scaling back a product line - is the company facing at the moment? The more closely their presentation can address those challenges, and explain how their services will lead to positive change, the more compelling they will become. Waffling in the realm of general leadership theory, on the other hand, yields glazed eyeballs. \n\nA strong presentation can make even a bad idea seem plausible. Imagine what the right presentation can do for your most innovative ideas!\n


3 comments

David Batstone - 3/1/2006 11:51:05 PM
Ha...I like your articulation of the main theme better than my own, Wolske! I appreciate the feedback both you and Martin provide.

By the way, I just got bushwacked by another awful PowerPoint presentation this week. Successfully killed any sparks of inspiration hiding behind.
wolske - 3/1/2006 11:24:42 PM
Thanks David. I don't think any of the other cautionary tales about PowerPoint have articulated this point quite as well: Hit your audience with the point early, and don't hide behind PowerPoint.
martin - 2/23/2006 9:20:07 PM
David -

Thanks for this. I've just forwarded this on to two of my clients.

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