Pull the plug on the presentation autopilot

Jumping on PowerPoint is the knee-jerk reaction to any need to communicate with our peers, stakeholders, and clients. Based on what I see when I teach or attend executive meetings, it looks like this isn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Before you start creating another presentation, I’d suggest you ask yourself, “should I actually be doing a presentation?”

Coming from a presentation coach, you might find this surprising. But hear me out. Here is why you should disable the presentation autopilot; now.

First, did you notice I just equated presentation to PowerPoint slides in the intro of this article? That’s what most people do. I actually have serious misgivings about this mindset because it just leads us to terrible outcomes. Presentations are about moving people forward, not about pretty pictures. As a leader, you should be in the change business, not in the slide design business.

But more importantly, sometimes giving a presentation is just not the best choice. Why? Two big reasons:
  • It will shift the power dynamic away from you in some high-stakes situations. Blair Enns, Founder of Win Without pitching, talks about our addiction to the big reveal and the adrenaline rush that comes from putting ourselves in the win-or-lose situation of the presentation. Think about it: do you really want to be in a subservient position at your next sales meeting?

  • It reduces conversations, dialogue, and collaboration. You’re losing instant feedback and the possibility to come up with common understanding in the moment. If your presentation sounds and looks too perfect, it will not help you initiate a dialogue. I always feel bad for the presenters who hear crickets just after they ask their audience to provide feedback, simply because their talk sounded and looked so polished that nobody wants to contradict.
Think about your business need. Showcasing your point of view during a keynote? You’ll obviously need a presentation. Do you need to get a large group of people invested in your vision? You might need a mix of presentation and conversation mode. Do you need to raise funds for your startup? You’ll need a pitch that tells a compelling story; investors expect it.
Now, are you trying to get your team aligned on a set of values? Are you trying to establish the right relationship with a potential new client? Or just showcasing your capabilities? Maybe giving a presentation isn’t the best way to go about this. There are much better methods to drive alignment and convince than just standing in front of the room and lecturing.
As a leader, it is your responsibility to take control over the way you and your organization shape and spread strategic thinking. Don’t just feed the beast. If your stuff is that important, that valuable, that strategic, then take a moment to infuse a bit of strategy into how you’re going to make us excited about it. It’ll make a major difference for your audience, your people, and the business culture in which we all operate.
Pitching using metaphor: how to communicate complex business ideas and still ignite your audience.