2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation


(note:  I live in multiple worlds. I read and present synopses of business books, and other nonfiction books;  I speak and consult; and I teach speech, and study speech pretty seriously.  This is a post from that part of my life).

Every failed presentation fails in one of two ways:  the presentation had little or nothing worthwhile to say; or, even if the content was worthwhile, then it was delivered very, very poorly.

Would you like to deliver successful presentations?  It is simple (not easy – just simple) – just have something really worthwhile and useful to say, and then say it very, very well.

That’s it.  Every other tip (and step and piece of advice) simply elaborates on these two.

Aristotle said it first

If you want the academic terms for these two elements, they go all the way back to Aristotle’s canons.  He had five (invention; arrangement; style; memory; delivery — read about all five here), but I think these two really are the whole ball game:

Invention: invention involves finding something to say.  HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!

Delivery: Delivery concerns itself with how something is said.  SAY IT VERY WELL!

The Invention Part requires a host of elements:  good, genuine, deep preparation; checking out opposing viewpoints and deciding why your view is correct and the other views are incorrect.  Have more to say than the time allotted, thus forcing you to edit effectively; fill your time with great and useful content.  Choose the most effective order for your main points, the right illustrations, the best stories, the right words.  Follow the principles set forth in such books as Made to Stick by the Heath brothers and Words that Work by Frank Luntz.  (see this earlier blog post for a summary of the key content from these two excellent books).  And be sure to select the best possible topic – one that you care deeply about, one that really does matter to your specific audience, one that is born of this time and these circumstances, one that is manageable in the time allotted.

And don’t forget the techniques of the great speakers.  Use repetition – a lot of repetition – on purpose.  In a written essay, repetition can be your enemy.  In a presentation, repetition can be your friend.  Try your best to use parallel structure, especially with your main points.  Don’t have too many main points!

And start in a way that compels the audience to pay attention. And end in a way that sends them forth with a clear understanding of “what next? – now that I’ve heard this presentation, I know the what’s next!”

In other words, before you ever get up to speak, you’ve got your work cut out for you.  It takes a lot of serious, focused preparation to have something worthwhile to say.

The Delivery Part requires a lot of practice (rehearsal) with deliberate practice/work on specific elements.  Start with your posture.  Then your voice.  Then your eye contact.  Then your gestures.

When you actually deliver your presentation, make sure these things happen:

• come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant
• come close to electrifying the room with your energy
• be perceived as deeply caring about this topic, and these people
• genuinely connect with this audience

Whatever else, don’t fail.  Succeed.  Have something to say, and say it very well.

5 thoughts on “2 Ways to Guarantee a Failed Presentation

  1. Hey Randy,

    I have adapted your blog as a one page flyer for effective speakers and presentors

    How to Deliver Successful Presentations
    Would you like to deliver successful presentations? It is simple (not easy – just simple) – just have something really worthwhile and useful to say, and then say it very, very well. Every other tip and step and piece of advice simply elaborates on these two.
    Aristotle said it first . Aristotle’s five canons. invention; arrangement; style; memory; delivery I think these two really are the whole ball game:
    1. Invention: invention involves finding something to say. HAVE SOMETHING TO SAY!
    The Invention Part requires a host of elements: good, genuine, deep preparation; checking out opposing viewpoints and deciding why your view is correct and the other views are incorrect. Have more to say than the time allotted, thus forcing you to edit effectively; fill your time with great and useful content. Choose the most effective order for your main points, the right illustrations, the best stories, the right words. Follow the principles set forth in such books as Made to Stick by the Heath brothers and Words that Work by Frank Luntz. And be sure to select the best possible topic – one that you care deeply about, one that really does matter to your specific audience, one that is born of this time and these circumstances, one that is manageable in the time allotted.
    And don’t forget the techniques of the great speakers. Use repetition – a lot of repetition – on purpose. In a written essay, repetition can be your enemy. In a presentation, repetition can be your friend. Try your best to use parallel structure, especially with your main points. Don’t have too many main points!
    And start in a way that compels the audience to pay attention. And end in a way that sends them forth with a clear understanding of “what next? – now that I’ve heard this presentation, I know the what’s next!”
    In other words, before you ever get up to speak, you’ve got your work cut out for you. It takes a lot of serious, focused preparation to have something worthwhile to say.
    Delivery: Delivery concerns itself with how something is said. SAY IT VERY WELL!
    The Delivery Part requires a lot of practice (rehearsal) with deliberate practice/work on specific elements. Start with your posture. Then your voice. Then your eye contact. Then your gestures. When you actually deliver your presentation, make sure these things happen:
    • Come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant
    • Come close to electrifying the room with your energy
    • Be perceived as deeply caring about this topic, and these people
    • Genuinely connect with this audience
    Whatever else, don’t fail. Succeed. Have something to say, and say it very well.
    Every failed presentation fails in one of two ways: the presentation had little or nothing worthwhile to say, or, even if the content was worthwhile, then it was delivered very, very poorly. (Adapted from Randy Mayeux)

    J Percival Borja, TrainingMasters, 2010
    ATM, Toastmasters International

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