A Manager’s Guide for Turning Presentation Flops Into Communication Victories

A Manager’s Guide for Turning Presentation Flops Into Communication Victories

Are you hearing that your team’s presentations fall flat, fail to drive the desired outcomes, or don’t meet your team’s goals? Maybe you’ve even seen this happen right before your eyes. Or perhaps you’re simply tired of spending your time fixing someone else’s bad presentations to avoid those sorts of lackluster (at best) and painful (at worst) scenarios.

In a perfect world, managers should expect their teams to deliver clear, concise, and compelling presentations that ensure their most critical points get heard, encourage collaboration, and spur business growth and innovation. It’s a challenge that managers have struggled with, well, seemingly forever. Today it’s an even greater headache and bigger challenge thanks to our headline-centric, social media-driven world where everything is boiled down to 280 characters or less.

But it’s also a huge opportunity to provide effective, practical communication training for your entire team, especially for new hires, lower-paid employees, and the younger generations for whom professional training is a top incentive as they consider career opportunities and changes. Research by Robert Walters, a global recruiting firm, found that 91% of millennial professionals feel the potential for career progression is a top priority when choosing a new job. The New York Times in 2021 reported that employer job postings for positions that did not require four-year degrees included the term “training” 32% more often than in the same period two years earlier.

Here’s a short guide with four tips to help you make the case for upskilling your team’s presentation skills right now.

1. Define the business cost of poor presentation skills

If you want to sell communication training to your leadership, start by showing how bad presentations can result in damages ranging from lost productivity to a damaged brand.

Bad presentation skills waste time and decrease productivity

Microsoft estimates more than 30 million PowerPoint presentations are made every day. Because PowerPoint holds an estimated 95% share of the market for presentation software, we can estimate that more than 31.5 million PowerPoint-type presentations are given every day. Let’s assume (and these are conservative parameters):

  • Six people are in each meeting
  • Each meeting is 30 minutes
  • The average salary of presentation participants is $40,000, and there are an average of 2,087 average work hours in a calendar year

If just 1 in 4 presentations fails to accomplish the desired outcome or otherwise wastes people’s time (again, we’re being conservative here), the wasted time due to poor presentations is 236,500 hours daily — costing businesses a whopping $4.5 million every workday.

I have 5 million things to do. I don’t have time to spend 20 hours editing and re-editing a PowerPoint deck. But I know it needs to be good, so I need to know how to do it better, so I can do this faster.

— Head of field category leadership for a multinational food company

Damaged customer experiences

There are only two ways to grow a business: acquire new customers and retain existing clients. Bad presentations will hurt on both fronts. Failure to turn an opportunity into new revenue is the obvious outcome of a bad sales presentation. But if a presentation to a prospect or current client is confusing or boring — or worse, if your audience feels you’ve wasted their time — then you may suffer greater, longer-lasting repercussions.

Bad presentations can damage your brand among potential customers and cripple brand loyalty, which can be worse in the long run than losing the sale. After all, 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers, according to the Customer Service Institute of America.

An acute trend among our sales team is changing their methods and approach to accommodate a more digital motion and a more remote motion with our prospects. We have to be very cognizant of the relationship element in our pipeline.

— SVP of sales and field operations for a Europe-based global software testing company

Failing to reach a specific desired outcome

More specifically, bad presentations will prevent you or your team from influencing decision-making. Full stop.

Maybe you’re making a presentation to get approval for a new project for your team, but your data is confusing (or boring!), or your director simply doesn’t get a clear idea of the value of the project. You don’t get the go-ahead, you go back to the drawing board with your team, work stalls, and morale drops.

Almost 3 in 10 leaders (28%) report poor communication as the primary cause of failing to deliver a project within its original time frame.

SMARP, employee engagement and advocacy platform

Less collaboration

The odds of successful collaboration go down dramatically when people can’t present their ideas and drive desired actions clearly and convincingly. And the need for better collaboration has grown as an increasing number of people work remotely (at least part of the time) and so much of our work lives has become increasingly complex.

While the need for more effective collaboration affects every aspect of every business, it may be most acute in product development. Consider these findings from a 2020 survey of 155 manufacturers in various industries found that poor collaboration causes engineers to work with outdated data 28% of the time, resulting in more rework, delays, and errors, leading to lower-quality products, higher costs, missed deadlines, and delays in time to market.

Collaboration on a large presentation is one of the hardest parts of my job. For example, every month we have a presentation that’s 20 pages long. I’ve got eight people collaborating to provide content — and none of them are on the same page for format and style. Consistency would be a huge time saver.

— Quality manager and business planner for a multinational information technology company

2. Flip the script: Define the business incentives of presentation training

After you have presented the potential fallout from poor presentation skills, turn it around. Illustrate the wide-ranging benefits of great presentations.

Improved productivity

Research shows that effective communication can increase an organization’s productivity by 25%. When your team members can clearly and effectively make themselves heard and drive desired results, everyone can work more efficiently and reach goals faster.

Everything from hiring to product development to sales to operations can be more productive when presentations at every step are engaging and effectively drive the outcomes presenters seek.

This [culture of storytelling] can make an impact at any touch point, whether internal or a customer. It’s about changing the fabric of the organization itself.

— Global head of delivery capability, diversity, and inclusion for a multinational information technology services and consulting company

A feather in the cap of the employer brand — a recruiting advantage

The job market is tough and isn’t going to change anytime soon. When your organization can communicate more strongly with prospective hires, and create a better candidate experience, you’re more likely to get them on board before the competition does.

Research by the hiring software company CareerPlug found that 80% of job seekers felt a positive candidate experience influenced their decision to say yes to an offer, and 58% of job seekers said a poor candidate experience led them to decline a job.

Every year you should invest in your people, and the number one thing should always be to improve communication skills. A lot of people dismiss it and think, ‘We’re good enough,’ or overlook this because they think communication is a soft skill. But it has hard payouts — for us and our people.

— Chairman of a demand-generation strategy firm

Engagement and retention

Offering communication upskilling to employees polishes your employer brand. You’re offering one of the most desired features among employees today (and especially for the younger generations): a commitment to providing professional training incentives that are practical and they can carry with them anywhere in the organization — and beyond.

People [learn how to tell a compelling story] and they’re transformed. The proof is in the pudding.

— Manager II for a manufacturer of medical devices used worldwide

Get the results your team wants

If you have communication training that is designed using your team’s current objectives and projects, it immediately supports team members to achieve their goals. It has the added value of helping them achieve career goals.

Nobody has any time today, so it’s critical that you get your message moving forward the first time you present it. It’s all part of not only the need for speed, but of going virtual and even changes in organizational structure. The right communication skills make you able to move fast and influence decisions.

— Procurement business partner and manager for a multinational food and drink processing corporation

Greater collaboration

Presentations in which your team members are truly heard and can drive action can tear down the walls between groups and departments. They will empower your people to work better with others in your area of the business or in different departments, spur innovation, and achieve common goals more efficiently.

Think about it: If everyone on your team were trained to build and deliver communications using the same approach, they would be better able to “speak the same language” during the development and review process, ultimately saving everyone time and headaches.

The bar is higher for every part of the organization today. The smart organizations are investing in making sure their teams are great in engaging audiences virtually — regardless of who their audience is.

— Chief revenue officer for a demand-generation strategy firm

3. Assess your team’s presentation skills

Before you seek help upskilling your team, evaluate their current presentation capabilities and find the root of your bad-presentation problems.

Identify the pain point (or points!)

Does the problem lie with one or two team members, or is it a more widespread concern? Is lack of presentation skills a company culture issue? In other words, does your organization suffer from low expectations for presentation quality?

In many companies, presentations that waste time and fail to get the desired results are considered par for the course — a sort of ever-present evil that you just need to put up with. Some organizations or individual leaders actually reinforce bad presentation design by demanding to see all the data the team compiled, and the slides become a hot mess as a result.

Also, try to identify if what you’re seeing is an ongoing problem (whether in your team or throughout the organization) or if it’s begun more recently. The answer could influence where the communication upskilling needs to occur — or at least where it needs to start.

Identify the most critical themes that should be addressed

As you look at the source and scope of bad presentations, also look for the most common reasons presentations by your team or in the company fail to meet expectations and get results. Among the most common traits of bad presentations are:

  • A lack of structure or framework to tell an authentic story and instead suffer from a lack of flow and cohesiveness
  • Visuals that don’t directly support the message
  • Mountains of data that numb the audience rather than advance the intention of the presentation
  • Time wasted setting up the context at the start of the presentation and failing to allow for time to get to the BIG Idea and key takeaways
  • Virtual presentations that are clunky and awkward or leave the audience wondering what information was most important to know or what they were being asked to do

4. Leverage the power of upskilling through storytelling

Now it’s time to lean into the meat of your argument. When you understand why storytelling can transform your team’s presentation skills, you can make a stronger case for training that teaches employees how to present using effective storytelling.

Who doesn’t love a good story? We grow up listening to stories. Our brains are wired to remember stories. But effective stories — stories that spur customers, prospects, or leaders to take action — do more than tell a fairytale. They follow a proven arc and include powerful data insights and strong visuals to achieve an optimal balance of logic and emotion. To do what? To generate the decision-making their presenters seek within their audience.

How killer stories are crafted (in a nutshell)

A great presentation is built on a story with a tried-and-true road map. The good news is that once it’s learned, this structure can be applied to any form of communication and in any area of business. In brief, the road map has three key elements: the why, the what, and the how:

1. The WHY of the story: setting, characters, and conflict

  • The setting provides the context of the presentation and is often backed up with data and trends; it builds critical focus for the audience and gets them on the same page with the presenter.
  • Characters establish an emotional element for the audience to relate to. They can be customers, suppliers, partners, key stakeholders, or others.
  • Conflict gives your audience a reason to care (and pay attention to the presentation). It allows the presenter to illuminate a current problem — one that may not be blatantly obvious to the audience.

2. The WHAT of the story: The BIG Idea

Great presenters through the ages have known the power of the BIG Idea — a crystal-clear understanding of the one critical takeaway they want their audience to know or do when the presentation is over. In presentations, this can be presented as an inspiring, insightful, and actionable preview of what’s to come. It’s how great presenters cut through the noise, connect with their audience, and drive decision-making.

3. The HOW of the story: The resolution

Resolution is where the presenter unveils a new opportunity, idea, or the call to action they want their audience to take. It gives the audience a clear direction forward.

Wrap data in a story (don’t let data drive the bus)

Many people believe that showing more data, more facts, or more evidence will bolster their presentation and help prove their point. Even some of the savviest data wizards have trouble controlling the amount of information they present. In fact, the opposite is usually true. Less data is best — if it’s told in the context of a story, is visually well displayed, and truly adds value to impact the audience.

Leverage the advantages of storytelling training

Great storytelling skills pay benefits beyond improving your team’s presentations. They also apply to emails, one-pagers, project plans, and more. Storytelling training has advantages for your team, including:

  • Streamlining how your team’s best ideas get heard, so they’re better enabled to influence decision-making and drive your team’s desired outcomes
  • Transforming data from confusing and mind-numbing to engaging and supportive
  • Using a framework that enables them to adapt their presentation on the fly anytime they need to — and giving you the flexibility to be nimble to meet changing needs in the moment as well
  • Saving time creating presentations, and avoiding rounds of edits with colleagues, because they’ll have a structure around which to organize their idea
  • Improving how your people present — gaining confidence, boosting presentation quality, and developing executive presence

Prepare to Dramatically Improve Your Team’s Communication Impact

No manager wants their people to waste time — theirs or anyone else’s. Yet that’s what poor presentations do, every day. Every manager wants their people to communicate their ideas in a way that achieves the desired outcome and drives everyone toward success. That’s what storytelling can help your people do.

If poor presentations are costing your team time and slowing things down, if they’re leaving you and your team members frustrated, and costing you credibility, it’s time to invest in communication training. Specifically, it’s time to invest in communication training that centers on storytelling. It’s a proven path to getting your team’s ideas heard, making team members feel confident and valued, and moving your company forward.

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