Make a point for a message to stick in a presentation

Less is more when presenting. With a so many number of valuable work hours spent at meetings Emma Bannister knows how to trim the fat.

Presentations are the most powerful tool that leaders, CEOs and executives have to communicate business ideas, vision and value. Yet the majority of the time they are bland, boring and fail to make any kind of point. Important and urgent messages are hidden in badly designed slides, complex paragraphs of information, verbose language and screens of bullet points that have no clear purpose or call to action.

Research suggests that the average professional spends 14 hours per week creating, delivering and attending presentations – many of which are vastly unproductive and amount to very little, if anything at all. For a small team of 15 people that equates to over 10,000 man-hours a year.

The challenge most CEOs and leaders face is pulling a presentation together often at the last hurried minute. Although there may be a dedicated person or team for a particular presentation, they are usually busy dealing with an increasing workload and competing deadlines. 

So presentations are usually dug up from the archives, with numbers updated to make them seem current. Aside from this being totally uninspirational for the audience who have viewed this reincarnated presentation before, it is also like trying to pull a rabbit out of a hat for the presenter.

It’s impossible to find and communicate a clear message in slides that have been used time and again for varying, and often differing, reasons. When spoken out loud and communicated on screen, it ends up as waffle and it’s one of the reasons presentations are too long.

On average, only 10 percent of a presentation is remembered. This means most of what is said could be condensed or cut in half. Any leader or CEO wanting to have an impact when they present must pick one clear message to structure their presentation around and then repeat that message throughout to make the message stick.

It is that one idea, purpose or point that is the glue that holds everything else together. Once there is a clear bumper sticker message then it’s easy to figure out what the key take-home message is for the audience and what it is they should do as a result.

Anything else in the presentation that does not align to this message should be deleted, stripped out and banished. These days, what gets left out of a presentation is more important than what goes in. Some people and companies are clearly better at this than others. Contrary to belief, sharing everything and blinding the audience with numbers is not the best way to be transparent and open. This will make everyone disengage, lose interest, and fast.

It is only by communicating clearly articulated messages that stakeholders buy-in on a new vision, or a new client and multi-million dollar contract is won. Leading academic Mary Barth from Stanford University recently found that good integrated reporting and presentations is positively associated with both stock liquidity and firm value. Clearly, this requires much more than just making presentation slides ‘look pretty’.

Leaders and CEOs must invest the time and energy into putting together a great presentation with one clear message if they want their audience to invest the time and energy in them.