May 19, 2011

3 Reasons Why Your Presentation Sucks Even If You Are a CEO

I had a few presentations that were clearly flops. People were glancing at their watches, looking out of the window, or even nodding, but never did what I wanted them to do later.

The most probably you think you present well. Most probably you don't. Even when your employees, or some audience members told you did great, believe me they'll say it even when your presentation (or speech) sucks. I heard it so many times.

Do you really think that ''just'' because you are a CEO, GM, MD or (top) management representative we are going to listen to, pay attention, or enjoy your presentation, or take action you want us to take?

No, you don't. And you are right.

I had to sit for hours on a conference yesterday, where dozen of CEO's (of technology and consulting companies) presented their products, and this is why I decided to write this blog post.

Their presentations were so mediocre that I was sitting there amazed, embarrassed, frustrated.

‘’Couldn't You Do A Good Job?’’ I was thinking.

Around 200 other people were in the audience. Many of them were companies' owners, executives, or decision makers. 90% of speakers were disaster. Mediocre is still a disaster, unless you are an absolute beginner, or they just informed you 3 minutes ago you were going to present.

''It was just a presentation, wasn't it?'' you might ask. No it was not.

It was a chance to get return on the investment of your time. It was a chance to market your solution. It was a chance to shine and be remembered. It was a chance to make me, or someone else, dial your (company) number.

Yes, there were times when customers were beating a path to your door, my door and other doors. Those times are gone.

It is a healthy priority, so that is why I was shocked and disappointed by

3 Unforgivable Things CEO’s Did When
Presenting Yesterday

1. Not greeting the audience upon coming on stage, but staring at slides, or screen where short film about their company was going to be played.

Out of first five presenters (all CEOs) only one said something like ''Hi'' or ''Good Morning'' and he did that after promotional film about his company was played.

I have to admit moderator announced each speaker, saying his name and what company he is from, but I am sure we deserved one look, a smile, and/or ''Hi'' when that person got behind the lectern.

If I went to ask each CEO on stage if he should say ''Good morning'', or address the room before starting to stare at the slides/film I am sure everyone would say ''Of course'' or a favorite one, ''I know that.''

2. Reading from slides (not skipping ONE line) or changing order of points, or even words.

Guys, we can read the slides, you don't have to do it instead of us. Did you really come up on stage just to help us read your slides?

What a waste of your time. We could have gotten the presentation by e-mail.

3. Time keeping. Every single one exceeded the time allocated for his presentation and moderator had to ask them to ''finish in one minute.'' By the time moderator warned them they had a minute left -- they were nowhere near the end of their presentation, more like at the half of what they ''planned'' to say.

They did not prepare, did not practice, not even once. (I thought moderator was rude for telling them explicitly to cut the story short, but that is another thing.)

They did not prepare well for a presentation in front of 200 people, some of them potential customers. Can you believe it?

This is What I Felt Like Saying To These Guys

We want you to acknowledge us first. We want you to let us know what you can do for us.

We want us not to admit you are not sure what our return on investment is when we buy from you.

This is your chance to charm us, convince us, teach us, inspire us, enchant us, and sell to us. Please do it.

We did not come to hear about you, you, you. We are not impressed by your company’s logo, list of customers who bought from you years ago, or even last year, we are not delighted by seeing your employees on film, typing away at their computers looking smart, or your sales director telling us you are the leaders on the market. Those times are gone.

When Did I Present The Best?

The best presentation I had in the past year was meant to be 30 minutes long. I was preparing for it for a month, every day (not the whole day, and I did not learn text by heart). Although my colleagues or MBA course class-mates used to call me ''the best spontaneous presenter'', I knew I had to prepare better than anyone. The big bonus was that I was a lot less nervous, too.

Let me repeat -- I was preparing whole month for 30 minutes presentation. They let me go on for 45 minutes.

I knew most important points I had to fit in 30 minutes, just because I thought hard about my audience, my goal, and then prepared, practiced and repeated. When I finished with my planned content, I glanced at the organizer who was nodding in my direction trying to signal to continue. Moderator and conference organizer later explained they wanted me to go on when they saw the audience’s reaction.

''I knew you would do a great job, but you exceeded my expectations'' a Chairman of company who hired me (to speak on that occasion) told me. I had slides, I had a short film too, but I know that was not what did ''the trick.''

You don’t have the time to prepare? It is like you say ''I do not have the time to do my job, influence, market my business, demonstrate leadership by inspiring people in front of me.'' Think about it if you haven’t already.

Did you have to suffer through awful presentations, and what made you feel that way? What do you (think you have to) do to maximize your chances of doing a great job while presenting? What helped you, or brought the result you wanted to achieve by speaking or presenting? Do you ever think of every opportunity to present as an opportunity to market yourself, help your business, your company, your leadership?

If you have a big day, speech, or presentation you are preparing and would like my opinion, contact me for free 30 minutes consultation now. I will be happy to book a session for the first 5 subscribers.
If you would like to hear from me again and get all parts of new video series ''Present Better Than Ever and Anyone'' join my mailing list now - if not subscribed already. You also get to download my 56 page e-book Productive executive/manager secrets - Manage Interruptions at Work. You can occasionally take the advantage of complimentary coaching session I like to treat my readers with.


  1. Yatheendranath TJMay 20, 2011 at 12:21 AM

    I agree. Telling something new, crisply, always matters.

  2. Thank you Yatheendranath. I was looking forward to hear feedback and discuss a little the old topic, which will never be too old to do it as good as possible. What was so frustrating to me is that we all know so much about presentations, yet most of them are such a ''bad job.''

  3. 3 reasons? How about 20 reasons?

    1. Too many bullet points
    2. Read from the slides
    3. The fonts are way too small.

    In the old days, people had to pay someone to make 35 mm slides. That's why they jammed 10 points into a single slide - to save a few buck. It is NO LONGER necessary to do so now. You can have as many slides as you want and they are all FREE!!!

    Why single out CEOs? They are just as bad as anyone who does not know how to present properly.

    See my blog at

  4. Hi Norman, sure I could have found a 100 reasons but decided to go with 3 in this article that outraged me. I wrote about CEO's because they were majority presenting on the day I wrote about, and because I did expect (much) more from them. Thanks for your link I am going to check it out.

  5. Liliana...A lot of people are using their bullet points on their slides as their personal teleprompter. And there is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes when they forget that they are actually sharing the contents with their audience.

    I do 2-day presentations on some highly technical subject and I never use bullet points. The audience loves it and no one falls asleep.

  6. Norman, that's good for you and your audience. I have nothing against bullet points; if you have the time read (the whole) post and you will see I share your opinion about the audience. For me the audience is the main focus and starting point, whatever goal I have in mind. Thanks again for your comments. Regards to all. Please share your experience or ideas.

  7. Florence Perot, Director at Hewlett-PackardMay 20, 2011 at 9:33 PM

    Another painful issue I observerd with poor presentations are sentences in slides. It is difficult to read a sentence based bullet while the speaker explains the same point. Slides are suppsoed to be support materials to remind the audience where you are in the points the presenter is making.
    Another issue in poor presentations is that presenters frequently misinterpret "a picture is worth thousand worsd". It does not mean to add cute little pictures or drawings crowding the presentationslides, but a drawing/picture that summarizes visually a particular point. My 2 cents having suffered through long poor presentations too many times :-(

  8. Presentations are best way to make people bored,
    because the concept of mordern eduation sucks and it is the result of the same.....

  9. Hi Florence, thanks for participating. It is so funny what you say about pictures. I used to think the same in the past, and sometimes I overdid it, as well as my colleagues:)
    They say Steve Jobs is amazing presenter and he can really use visual points well, but OK, we are not all Steve Jobs and that's OK, too. I really appreciate you honestly sharing your personal opinion. Thank you.

  10. Hi Nikhil, it sounds as a good joke what you are saying, only I believe you are serious, right? What bored you the most at the presentations you had to endure?

    Education is another subject but very important one. You sound like you read Ken Robinson or at least watch him speak. He says our education is still the same as when it was preparing students for the industrial age. Am I right?

  11. Another mistake to avoid is the use of animation. I have seen slide presentations where 30% of the slide is taken up by cheesy clip art and the words are sliding in and out or zooming in and out. A good presentation is a conversation with the audience. That's how Steve Jobs does it. He talks to the audience. No bullet points. No flashy pictures or animation.

  12. I've seen that too, and done it as well. Nothing against bullet points, though, just avoiding a ''death by bullet points'' and reading word for word. I do not want to come across as know it all who is just looking for faults. I realized presentation skills for me and most of us are life long learning process and commitment, and after years or delivering presentations or improving clients' skills - I can, and I am ready to improve, too.

  13. I very much liked your story and agree with you – even top C level executives – whom we expected to be “natural speakers” often do not come across as engaged / entertaining or passionate. And yes! I can relate to seating in boring presentations… and my biggest concern is to improve my own sales presentation skills – I welcome any material you have - specifically on that regard. Thank You

  14. I wanted to add another presentation flaw is the way the information is actually visually presented. It is extremely disheartening when presentations are presented in a visually unappealing form. Examples of this are extremely long paragraphs, bold or multiple colored text, over use or under use of graphics to represent information. Presenters need to be reminded to view their presentations with a 100 foot view, literally, walk about a 100 feet backwards.

  15. Hi Osha, I agree with all examples you have listed here.

    When we were presenting in business school with slides full of text, a professor told us we were making ourselves ''redundant'', because audience could read the text from the slides.

    Visuals should help or enhance our message but not be overpowering.

    Just made video series with the best strategies that worked for me and others, if anyone would like to improve.

    Your comments and inputs are welcome. Regards to all.

  16. Hi!
    Glad to read this. Add bad english (if it is in EN language).
    It's true and amazing how easy it is to spot people who have not invested time in their presentation.
    My boss in this rather new position I have now, always used the same for each customers' kickoff meeting. Now that he is gone I think I have not kept a single of his slides.

    I remember years ago, when presenting stuff of my PhD, I had a 12min presentation learned so well, that I had arranged a timer in powerpoint when to turn slides and throughout the 12 min I never pushed a button to turn slides and never took a look at the slides, just the people in front of me....but that was risky and excessive, though it impressed people.

  17. Well done Christos, and thanks for sharing. As you say we are talking to people, not to slides, and they are not the most important part of any presentation, although sometimes it feels like that.


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