Boring presentations are not the problem; Issue #253, January 24, 2012

PowerPoint Tip: Boring presentations are not the problem

How many times have you heard that the problem with many PowerPoint presentations is that they are boring? This is a common refrain from the media and it used to justify why presentations should not use PowerPoint, or use some other hot presentation tool instead of PowerPoint. I heartily disagree that most business presentations are boring. The problem with most presentations is not that they are boring, it is that they are confusing. In today’s article I want to explain the difference and what we can do about the problem.

A boring presentation is one that has no useful information for the audience and is a complete waste of their time. Does this type of presentation happen? Absolutely. But not very often. My experience is that the presenter does have something valuable to say to this audience. The audience has agreed to hear the presenter because they believe that there will be value in hearing what the presenter has to say. So what goes wrong?

The big problem with too many business presentations is that they are confusing, not boring. The audience doesn’t leave bored, they leave confused. Their time was wasted not by useless information, but by useful information that was presented so poorly that the time spent gave them no value. When executives call me to help their team improve their presentations, it is never because the presentations are boring. It is because the presentations are confusing and not getting the important message across.

Why are so many presentations confusing? I think there are two key reasons. First, the presenter has not thought enough about how to structure their message for this audience. I see presentations that seem to be a random brain dump on the topic. The presenter just dumps everything they know on to the slides in whatever order it tumbles out of their brain. No wonder it seems confusing to the audience. There is no flow or structure to the message and the audience can’t figure it out.

The second key reason so many presentations are confusing is that the presenter feels compelled to include everything they know about the topic. Every background piece of information, every data chart, graph or diagram ever created on the topic, and every bullet list they could think of goes on to slides. This overwhelms the audience and they don’t know what to make of all this information. No wonder they leave confused.

What can presenters do to reduce the chance that they will leave their audience confused? First, spend more time structuring your message. You need to sit down and actually plan what this audience needs to hear. It starts with deciding on the goal, continues with analyzing the audience and finally determining what points need to be included in the presentation. This is such an important topic that I did a one-hour webinar last year on Planning a Successful Presentation.

Second, be brutally honest about what really needs to go in to your presentation and what should be left out. This is a very difficult task because you are dealing with your emotions. You are emotionally invested in all the analysis and work you have done, and to leave it out can hurt. But you must be ruthless in evaluating what information should be included or excluded. For more tips, refer to this newsletter article on what data to include in a presentation.

Confusing presentations are a much bigger issue in business today than boring presentations. You can make your presentations more effective by structuring your message and including only the information the audience really needs to hear. By taking these actions, your audience will leave the presentation informed, not confused.