The Do's And Don'ts Of Effective Presentations


It’s always the same slow-motion car wreck.

It goes like this:

Just before the new budget year, your CEO invites the business leaders to a two-hour strategy meeting dedicated to their units. Over the course of about three weeks, he meets individually with 30+ leaders for a “rack review” of their business units. It’s a metaphor for when your mechanic lifts your car up on the rack for a complete review of the engine. You get it—looking at every part of your business to celebrate successes and search for strategy/execution improvements. The CEO is the proverbial proctologist, now bend over and cough…

You invest countless hours building a presentation. It’s impressive and comprehensive enough to withstand a congressional inquiry. Multiple color copies are made and placed neatly at every place setting. You’ve rehearsed every slide. You’ve timed your presentation to the minute and will no doubt land it exactly on time.

But you never get the chance. The CEO will indulge you for a few minutes, ten max. They will flip through the deck to show they appreciate the time you invested (wasted) and indicate they are ready to pivot to their own agenda. They’re over it and want you to notice. The problem is—you’re so focused on landing your speech you miss all the clues. To justify your exhaustive investment of time in your deck, you will keep revisiting it, digging a hole deeper and deeper until the CEO pushes their copy aside to show where they want to focus the remaining time.

DO NOT DO THIS EVER AGAIN. It’s a waste of time. Stop building all those decks and instead see what’s really needed and wanted.

This can be a very valuable meeting if the participants can pull their head out of the clouds and follow some wise principles:

  • Do not build time- and attention-fatiguing decks in a vacuum.

Your agenda needs to align with the leader’s agenda. Clarify the true purpose of the meeting, and ensure you know what points they want addressed. If you build a deck, keep it extremely short and expect not to use it. Prepare like you might; know that you likely won’t.

  • Ask others how and when these meetings have been a success for both parties, and integrate what you learn into the assets you create.

Heck, ask the leader straight up what’s the protocol and preferred structure for any slides/decks/handouts. “I don’t want to waste a minute of my time or yours, so can you guide me on what areas you want to gloss over and dive deep into?”

  • Resist the temptation to tether mentally and emotionally to your prework.

If you use it, great. If not, even better. It means they trust you to run today’s business, but they prefer to talk about the future. Be nimble. Rigidity to your beautiful deck is likely a reflection on your rigidity elsewhere.

  • Don’t wander into an abyss.

Stay focused on how your business relates to the overall picture, and resist the arrogance of assuming your direction is their direction. CEOs are typically thinking 12-18 months out and don’t want to be pulled into the weeds.

Join Nancy Duarte, expert communicator and author of the new book DataStory: Explain Data and Inspire Action Through Story, as she reveals how to present data to get decision-makers on board with your ideas.

Get the tools to design and deliver compelling presentations. Register to attend a complimentary Presentation Advantage webcast.

About the Author

Scott Miller

Scott Miller is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey and serves as Senior Advisor, Thought Leadership. Scott hosts the world’s largest and fastest-growing podcast/newsletter devoted to leadership development, On Leadership. Additionally, Scott is the author of the multi-week Amazon #1 New Releases, Master Mentors: 30 Transformative Insights From Our Greatest Minds, Management Mess to Leadership Success: 30 Challenges to Become the Leader You Would Follow, and the Wall Street Journal bestseller, Everyone Deserves a Great Manager: The 6 Critical Practices for Leading a Team. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his wife and three sons.

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