You want to really screw up a presentation? No worries, I can help. That’s because I’ve screwed up plenty. It doesn’t matter whether you’re speaking to a small group of executives, a prospective customer or a large gathering of people at a conference. You can easily screw things up. And it’s almost always for these three reasons.

You didn’t prep.

About three years ago, I was hired to speak in front of an industry group on ways to improve cash flow. After talking for an hour, I received a smattering of applause and walked out of there thinking “Gee, I guess those guys just didn’t get it.” Turns out my topic was supposed to be about healthcare reform and I didn’t think to check. Oops. Suffice it to say, I haven’t been asked back. The lesson, of course, is to prep. It sounds obvious that knowing the title and topic of your presentation would probably be useful – but clearly that obvious advice was lost on me.

But prepping goes well beyond double-checking the program ahead of time. Prepping means knowing your slides inside and out and testing them. It means tailoring your presentation to your audience with specific data and information that you know will appeal to them. It means arriving, if you can, the day before or early enough to check out the room so you’ve got a mental picture of where you’ll be. It means knowing your material well, because when you know something well you’ll find yourself speaking with more confidence about your material. It means practicing your delivery and walking through your presentation in front of a mirror a couple of times. Don’t just take it from me. Take it from the Boy Scouts: Be Prepared.

Speak, don’t read.

My wife and I attended a lecture given by a historian at a local Philadelphia museum about Benjamin Franklin’s life. This is some guy, this Benjamin Franklin. He was an inventor, businessman, lover, printer, politician, counselor and revolutionary. He spoke multiple languages and traveled the world in a time when there was no Wi-Fi or airplanes. And yet the lecturer, a professor at a nearby college, somehow found a way to bore us to tears. Why?

The guy didn’t speak. He read. He literally had his lecture typed up and printed out and for almost an hour, he just read, in a monotone voice, from the papers in front of him. He showed no emotion. He had no energy. And although I felt sorry for the people who lived in the 18th century and endured the hardships of life during that time, I felt more sorry for the poor students who had to suffer through this guy’s classes on American history. He stunk. Please…don’t stink. Don’t read. Put aside your papers, move from behind the podium, get a Lavalier microphone and talk to us. Tell us stories, show some energy, engage and have fun. Be yourself. Pretend we’re out to dinner together. The worst speakers don’t speak, they read. Don’t be that person.

Pay attention to the details.

My main presentation, which I do a few times a month to industry groups around the country, discusses trends affecting small and medium-sized companies: politics, the economy, taxes, healthcare, tech and other items. I sprinkle in stupid jokes. And I have a LOT of slides, which I move through super-fast to keep everyone awake. And that was the problem in Vegas a few weeks ago. Actually, there were two problems. The first was that my clicker didn’t work. I didn’t test it out. Which means my fast paced presentation turned into an agonizing mess because the timing was completely off. Oh, and my presentation was at the SHOT Show, the annual meeting of the gun industry (I’m ambivalent about guns but my talk was on marketing ideas for retail stores  – e.g., gun shops). Unfortunately, when hurriedly updating my PowerPoint for the SHOT show a few days before, I  made a couple of typos. Want to guess what they were? Here’s a hint: I used an “I” instead of the “O”. Twice. Oops.

For heaven’s sake, pay attention to the details of your presentation. Catch typos in your PowerPoint and make sure things are spelled correctly. Test out the equipment – the microphone, the projector and definitely the clicker to make sure it’s functioning properly. Get there with plenty of time beforehand and pay attention to your presentation time so that you don’t go over – people hate that and rightly so. Like everything in this world, the devil’s in the details. And paying attention to the details will make your presentation go much better.

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