We’ve all been there – standing up in front of the room, lights dimmed, projector whirring and the PowerPoint shining brightly on the screen. People are paying attention and taking notes. It’s all good and we are starting to get confident. We are thinking maybe there’s even a raise in our future, if things continue to go so well. Then one of the attendees raises a hand and asks, “Can I ask a question?”
Uh, oh, we think and say, “Sure”, but we know our rhythm is already broken. Then the comment comes and the air is sucked out of the room. We know the presentation may as well be over.
Any number of comments and phrases can derail a presentation. Phrases like, “We need more data”, or “We need to change the agenda”, or, “Sorry to cut you short” are among them. Even a request for a bathroom break can be an act from which a presentation never recovers. But there are three phrases that are sure fired presentation killers.
1. Those numbers don’t look right – This phrase is almost always uttered by the most senior person in the room or the most analytical person. And the chances are, they are right, and the number is wrong. There is no recovery except to say that we will double check the numbers and get back to you. But the presentation is over because after the questions about that page, nothing else is believable.
2. Can we do a process check? When this question is raised it means no one knows what the hell we are talking about any more. The discussion has gone so far off track that people had started checking their email long ago. Process check is another way to say what subject are we on? When the question comes up, it means you let the conversation go too far afield to why anyone showed up for the meeting in the first place.
3. I know you can’t read this, but… – We have all heard the phrase and there is always a collective sigh of resignation in the room when we hear it. Anyone who hears this phrase takes it as permission to do something else during the presentation. A synonym for this phrase alludes to an eye chart. Why pay attention to something you can’t read? Never, ever show any things that no one can read.
The remedy to all three phrases is simple. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.
Make sure all the numbers are right.
Don’t let the meeting go off track. Be a leader.
Show pictures, not data that no one can read.
Photo: CSA-Archive, Phil Agustavo / Getty Images