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Bad Presenting . . . the Business Ritual of Pain

Are Bad Presentations necessary?
Break the Painful Business Ritual

Is there some law, somewhere, that dictates that business presentations must constitute a painful business ritual?

Boring.

Barren.

Bereft of Excellence.

Given the number of long, dull, pedantic, repetitious, confusing – bad – presentations I see both inside and outside of the business school, I suspect there must be.

This dullness seeps into the consciousness.  It numbs us, and begins to legitimize itself.  It’s like a business ritual . . . a ritual of pain.

Corporate America seems addicted to this ritual.

And yet a conspiracy of silence surrounds bad business presentations and those who give them.

The Ritual of Pain is Ubiquitous

Bad Business Presentations are everywhere . . . and because they are everywhere, we think that bad business presentations must be legitimate.

They must be the norm.  They must be bad, because that’s just the way it is.

And this bad presentation business ritual perpetuates itself, like some kind of awful oral tradition . . . like a ritual.

You see a bad business presentation that some people praise as good.  It looks like this . . .

Some Vice President from a visiting company stands in front of you hiding behind a lectern.  He reads from slides with  dozens of bullet points taken from a written paper and pasted onto PowerPoint slides.  He alternates looking at a computer screen and turning to look at a projection screen behind him.  He rarely looks at you.

A Wasteland On the Screen

Unreadable spreadsheets appear.

Legions of tiny numbers march in cadence on the screen.

The presenter reads slide-after-slide verbatim, his head turned away from you.

The slides themselves are unintelligible.

It’s a bad presentation, and you can’t remember a damn thing except the three texts you received during the presentation as you checked your iPhone between yawns.

Given this familiar exercise in bad presenting, you could legitimately ask yourself, “Is this all there is?”

If bad business presentations are the norm – if this is the business ritual – you scratch your chin and perhaps you think “That’s not hard at all.”

I can be as bad as the next person.

Just Cobble Together a Bad Business Presentation

Cobble something like that together, and you think you have a business presentation.  And why wouldn’t you think that?

It seems to have all the elements:  A speaker-reader of slides (you), a PowerPoint display on the screen with writing on it, some numbers, and a 10-minute time slot to fill with talk.

Bad Business Presentations are the career kiss of death
Stop giving bad business presentations!

But what you actually have is something awful – just awful.

You don’t know what you want to accomplish . . . or why.

You have no idea what you should say . . . or why.

And you don’t view yourself as benefitting from the process in any way.  Instead, you see it as something painful.  Because it is painful.

The Business Ritual of Pain.

Let’s repeat, so there’s no misunderstanding . . .  just awful.

This business ritual is painful and awful because of the way it’s been explained to you.

Because the explanations are incomplete.  Because you never get the whole story.

Teaching you how to deliver a cogent, competent, powerful business presentation is always someone else’s job.

This can be a problem.

A problem because your career often hinges on how well you can present.  And if you present badly, you needlessly handicap yourself.

I Feel Your Pain

Sure, there are “presentation”courses.  But it seems that the good folks who actually provide you some sort of presenting instruction in school are often disconnected from your business courses.

They teach you “How to give a speech” or “How to introduce yourself.”  But you don’t have the opportunity to engage in a complex group business presentation.

Oftentimes, these folks aren’t even in the business school.  They can’t show you how to incorporate business content into your presentations – tools like the SWOT, value chain analysis, financial analysis, PEST, Competitive Intelligence, and such like.

And on occasion, professors in your business can seem indifferent to this business ritual.

For most of your professors, presenting is secondary.  This makes sense, as each faculty has a specialty or functional discipline he or she is charged with teaching.  Business “Presenting” is no one’s functional discipline, and so it goes un-addressed, orphaned to expediency and neglect.

It is the same in the corporate world.  Your presenting woes are the same woes that scourge the American business landscape.

Boring, dull, numbing . . . all of this is equated wrongly with “serious.” We get the bad business presentation as the standard.

The Business Ritual in Corporate America

I attended a business conference on the west coast not long ago to watch the Business Ritual in all its ignominy.

Monotone voices.

Busy slides with tiny letters.

Listeners shifting in their seats.

Motionless speakers planted behind a lectern.

Aimless and endless talking with seemingly no point.

It seemed that no preparation and no practice had preceded these presentations.

Papers shuffling in the audience, because handouts were given prior to the talk.

This is more common than you might imagine.  Communications consultant Andy Goodman conducted major research on the issue in 2005, surveying more than 2,500 public interest professionals and asking them to evaluate their presentation viewing experiences.

He then codified responses to this business ritual.

The average grade public interest professionals gave to the presentations they attended was C-.  The average grade given to the visuals that respondents observed in presentations they attended was also C-.

When asked to recall presentations they had seen over the last few months, survey respondents said they were more than likely to see a bad business presentation as to see an excellent one.

This is the current state of presentations in corporate America and in business schools.  Is it uniformly bleak?  No, of course not.

Glimmers of Hope . . . Gigantic Opportunity

Generalizations are just that – general in nature.  I have seen a sufficient number of fine presentations to understand that, somewhere, superb instruction holds sway.

Or, at the very least, young people whose early development has trained them for the stage have found their way to the business platform.  Good for them.  But for the most part, it is as I have described here.

And this presents a magnificent opportunity.

Now that you understand the situation and why it exists, it’s time for you to join the ranks of especially powerful presenters.  Becoming a superior presenter means gaining incredible personal competitive advantage that is difficult to imitate.

By investing your presentations with passion, emotion, and enthusiasm, you deliver especially powerful shows with persuasive power.  Presentations that are anything but dull.  So . . .

It’s time to revamp your business ritual.

Time to end the business ritual of pain.

Interested in more on fixing bad business presentations?  Consult The Complete Guide to Business School Presenting.