We waste countless hundreds of hours sitting through boring, sleepy, and hastily-prepared presentations. This episode serves as a warning to would-be public speakers. If we are annoyed by these pitch mistakes, the rest of your audience is also.
In this episode:
- Stop reading your slides!
- Less is more when it comes to public speaking
- Short presentations force you to prepare more
- Why you must nail the first minute of your speech
- Why Adele restarted her performance at the Grammy’s
- How to leave people with a compelling call to action
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Ten Reasons Your Presentation Sucks
We are talking about bad presentations. Frank and I, both of us have been watching and actively presenting our technology startup. We were one of twenty finalists for TechCrunch Disrupt, which is a pitch competition. We spent the better part of a month putting together a persuasive presentation. Frank was at his mastermind, which goes to quarterly. The way a mastermind is set up, Frank, maybe say how many different pitches you see in a week for a mastermind.
Over the course of the week, each individual facilitator will see up to twenty presentations, most of which are done in seven minutes or less than it shows because they’re not great and not well-thought through, but then we have Tuesday Day where there are three main presentations. These are 75-minute presentations. I gave a 75-minute presentation. It took more than 50 hours to build a 75-minute presentation to put that in perspective for you.
On Wednesday, we had an incredible speaker. His name is Jeff Hoffman. He is a billionaire. He invented the kiosk in his twenties. It’s the thing you use at the airport, the kiosk, he invented that, and then he invented Priceline. This guy is brilliant and rich, but the thing with him is he came and did two presentations. He has been doing these presentations for many years. He is the best speaker I’ve ever seen publicly. Two best presentations I’ve ever seen. This guy had these things honed in. Ian, you would be thrilled. He did not read from one slide. He had no words.
We’re going to get to that too. Someone who has done that is a little bit like a standup comedian. They start in the smallest clubs they can. They practice their lines. They get their timing down so well over time that they know exactly what jokes are going to hit and what questions will be asked from the audience because they’ve heard so much. It is a big reason why people struggle to get comfortable is because they don’t practice it enough.
It’s a completely different thing when you give the same pitch or presentation over and over. I present in front of an audience of 200 to 400 people roughly two times a year and it’s always the first time I’ve given the presentation. It’s hard. It takes forever to build it. You don’t know what’s going to work and what isn’t. You can’t stress-test and audience-test it. If you get to the point where you get to become a professional speaker, it’s incredible because you know how to play the audience.
We’re going to talk about all the reasons why your presentation sucks. We’re going to dive into all of the presentations, public speaking, and pitches we’ve seen that we felt fell flat. It’s the things that drive us nuts when we’re in the audience. I’m going to start by saying one of the worst presentations I’ve ever seen.
This was years ago. This was when I was at GE. I was a new manager. We had a big divide between sales and operations at that time. We had this new senior vice president who came in and he came up through operations. He was known to be a jerk to the sales team, but the problem was, he was trying to act like, “We need to be one team.” The theme for this whole three-day annual meeting was Better Together. One team, all these themes, poster signs, and all the bullshit you can incorporate.
He leads and he is dry as hell. I could almost deconstruct his entire presentation because it was awful. He does the keynote to kick off and starts by saying, “2001 was a tale of two cities. Operationally, we were fantastic. On the sales front, we missed by 12%.” He led by crushing the salesforce and making it seem the operations were great.
Our view in the sales department, we sold a lot more if we weren’t screwing up so many of our deals, but he immediately lost half the room. It became almost like when you see a president get up and half of Congress stands up and claps when he says something and the other sits there looking mean. That’s what happened, but he was dry.
He read from his slides for 30 minutes. He didn’t know his material because he had to keep going back to it. He didn’t connect with anyone in the audience and he was awkward. It set the tone for a week of meetings that ended up being lousy all because this guy, in my opinion, didn’t spend enough time knowing the audience, caring about connecting the audience, and thinking through all of the items in a good persuasive pitch.
The other thing he didn’t do a good job is he might not be a public speaker. He put himself on stage and he was a terrible public speaker. He should have picked somebody else. I was at a presentation. The City of Richmond put it on. I don’t know if it’s the worst I’ve ever seen, but it was the one where I knew the meeting was not going to be productive.
They went on stage and were working on something on affordable housing. The first thing the person talked about is he turned it into a race discussion. It put this incredible heaviness over the meeting. Everybody was guarded and nobody felt like they could speak freely anymore. You could feel the air was let out of the room because we are here to solve a problem and another problem that’s certainly a problem was brought up, but it wasn’t the problem we were coming to solve. What it did is it took everybody’s enthusiasm to place of, “I don’t know if I can help any of this and I’m defensive.” You neutralize the entire meeting by leading with this.If you aren't relatable nor likable, talk about it. Just be honest. Click To Tweet
Knowing the audience is big. Understanding what you want to achieve is huge. One of the things that Ian and I talked about in prepping for this is knowing where you want to end is big. The other thing is we built an agenda. We were getting ready to hit record and we scrapped it. The reason we scrapped it is it isn’t us. We changed the tune to what we’re going to talk about in how your presentation sucks because it’s more on-brand with us. It fits us. When I give good presentations, they fit me. I know my audience. It fits who I am. It’s in my vernacular. It’s in my area of strength and understanding, and I deliver a great presentation. If I get away from that or if I see people who get away from it, those are one of the presentations I typically suck at.
Reason #1: You Are Uncomfortable
The number one reason your presentation sucks, you are not comfortable. The reason why this is very important if you’ve ever seen someone up on a stage and in front of a group that is clearly not comfortable, either with their material, presenting in general, or with the audience. If you are not comfortable, I can’t be comfortable.
If I feel like you are so uncomfortable up there, I feel uncomfortable for you. When you make me feel uncomfortable, I want you to get off the stage. I can’t wait for it to end. I’m not looking forward to the next thing you say. I start by feeling bad for you, but by the end of it, I’m irritated that you are still up there, making me feel uncomfortable.
There are a lot of reasons why people can’t get themselves comfortable. This is normal. This isn’t picking on people like this, but the truth is, if you can’t get comfortable getting up there, your audience is not going to like it no matter what. You have to come to grips with that of figuring out ways that you can make yourself comfortable going up in front of a group of people.
You referenced something about standup comedians. One of my all-time favorite standup comedians is George Carlin. I never got to see him live in a club, but I’ve seen him 100 times on television. I listened to one album. He is awesome. One of my friends told me the funniest story. When he was in DC, George Carlin was out. George Carlin walked out in front of the audience. Everyone clapped. He had a huge book. He walked out with two stools. He sat down on one of the stools.
He set this huge book on the other stool. He looked at the audience and said, “I’m going to read jokes out of this. It’s going to be better for everybody,” and he went to it. My friend said it wasn’t like an HBO Special. It ultimately became an HBO Special. George Carlin was a pro. What George Carlin knew was he didn’t have command of the material yet and he couldn’t deliver it the way he was going to deliver it at the end. He was honest. He told the audience, “I’m going to read it out of this because I’m fucking George Carlin and I can. It’s going to be better for you if I do it.”
If you are a bad presenter and are forced to present, change the frame so you can succeed. Pull a George Carlin. Read. Do what fits you or get out of it. We had a presenter come to our mastermind group. They were supposed to be our keynote and then tell us we have terrible platform skills and we did a bad job. We didn’t look at the video of them. They had an opportunity to crush this event and they missed it because their platform skills suck.
If they had told us, “We’re not great on stage. We would do better with an interview or something else,” you can set it up to win. Unless you must get in front of the stage and you must present, figure out how you can be comfortable. Do your job and convey a message that adds value because you are ultimately going to lose to someone’s cell phone. They’re going to pick up their phone, get distracted, and be pissed. They had to sit there and waste this much time listening to something with no value.
Out of the twenty tech startups that pitched at TechCrunch Disrupt, 4 or 5 of them had someone other than the founder pitch. These are smart people that are founding tech companies. The disruptive technologies that are changing the world stuff so PhD and engineers as the founder. They’re not polished salespeople and presenters. They’re passionate about their product, but you could tell the ones that weren’t comfortable being in front of a camera and their pitch didn’t go so well. I know they practiced and did everything they could, but they weren’t the right person for their company to represent on there because that’s not a skillset they could get comfortable with.
I liked something you said. If you are not the right person to talk up there, find someone who is. Raise your hand and say, “It’s probably not for me to do.” You might have that choice. Let’s say your manager said, “You are doing this. This is what you are doing.” What I would say in that regard is to know your material. Know it better than anyone else that’s in that audience because if you are the one being asked to talk, you should know it. Study your ass off. Rehearse it a million times. Frank said he spent 50 hours preparing for a 75-minute presentation. That’s my style too. We did a pitch. It was a six-minute pitch and we spent a month preparing for it.
The stakes were super high for you, guys.
It would be millions of people that could see that. It’s the biggest tech conference in the world and it’s watched globally. David did that pitch 25 times. We practiced the tech demo over and over until he had it locked down where he could do it. By the time he pitched it, he was so comfortable because we had practiced. From the first time we did it, we did a dry run with TechCrunch. He was uncomfortable because he didn’t know his materials well yet and he was still tweaking it on the fly. That’s important to know that if you are not comfortable, I find that often it’s just because I haven’t rehearsed it enough.
You have great platform skills and some people don’t. The takeaway here, if you are not comfortable, is either figure out how to get comfortable or change the frame so you can be. If you must present, like you are in high school or college and you can’t outsource it, figure out how you do well. Sitting down might work and doing other things.
One of the things that I do in a presentation is I try and get command to the audience early. I try and get a laugh because I’ve been doing presentations when I was in my twenties. In my 20s and my early 30s, I would get nervous. What I would do is I get a laugh from the audience. I would say something funny. It gives a quick break. I can shut my microphone off. I can catch a breath and then I can get back. That’s how I would get comfortable, but think about how you get comfortable.
The other thing is literally be blunt. I suck on stage, “I’m going to sit and do this because I want to be impactful for you.” If you get on stage in front of a group and you say you are not the best presenter, but I’m going to do it this way to give you value, you are going to gain empathy. There’s a way you can play the audience. Play the audience to your favor and try and win them over.
“I’m not the greatest presenter, but I was chosen because I have some expertise that could help all of you. Excuse me if I’m not the most polished guy up here, but I promise you, I have some ideas that you will use.” Say that right out of the gate. You got my attention.
“I’m going to be here until Thursday. I’m great with a cocktail. Come find me afterward. Let’s have a conversation about this. I would love to help you if I didn’t do a good enough job on stage, but I’m forced to be here, so let me get through this.”
Reason #2: You Don’t Know Your Audience
Number two on why your presentation sucks, you don’t know your audience and it’s clear to all of us. I started with the guy who did A Tale of Two Cities. Two-thirds of that room were salespeople. Here he is, crapping on the sales team and he lost us for three days. That was it.
Not only that, he used A Tale of Two Cities, which is a shitty book from 150 years ago.
He didn’t know his audience that day, but I see people do this all the time where they misjudge who they’re going to talk to. You have to know who you are talking to. Where are they in their journey? Why are they struggling with something that you’ve already figured out? If they’re not struggling with something that you figured out, you probably shouldn’t be up there talking to them.
If you don’t have some expertise and haven’t gone through some journey from failure to iteration to success, and they’re at the beginning of that mountain, then what are you doing talking to them? You are just guessing. You are requoting a bunch of half-assed internet research and books that you’ve read. You don’t belong up in front of them in the first place.
You probably were chosen because you’ve scaled that mountain and someone knows you have, and they’ve asked you to talk to them. You have to think about, “Where is my audience in that journey? What is their background? What are these people facing? What preconceived notions might they have of this topic and of me as a presenter?”
Let me go through something. The topic here is you don’t know your audience. Let me come out of the gate with something profound. Nobody cares about you. If they’re paying to sit in front of you, usually, you are pretty good. You’ve got a track record. We’re talking to people who have to present in front of a group. They don’t care about anything that you say. They care about themselves. What Ian and I are good at is using stories, topics, and funny anecdotes. We use them to connect the point to the audience. We usually want to talk about either pain or pleasure and then we drive towards the pain or the pleasure in the story.
The reason that we talk about these things is because we think they’re relevant for the mass, for the group that we’re talking to. It’s very hard to compel everyone, but if you can get the supermajority, you get 75% to 80% of the room, you are winning. Talk about topics that are consumable and relatable. The people who don’t relate, Ian’s story, what he talked about. Someone who gets on stage and he is super dry, someone who uses nothing but statistics. You are talking to an artsy crowd and using specific stuff. You have to relate the message.Lean on being yourself. Being authentic comes through to people. Click To Tweet
Here’s where we could turn this into something funny. American Express ran an ad for years. Jerry Seinfeld is in front of a British audience. He is giving American jokes. He is talking about baseball and stuff, and he bombs. It’s Jerry Seinfeld. He runs around Britain. He is using his American Express card, having all these different experiences, then he gets back on stage. He has got on completely different clothes. He looks like a golfer from the 1800s. He is using all these different examples. He is talking about baseball and cricket. He is doing all these things. The audience is laughing because it’s the same jokes, it’s a different context and he connected.
I’ll do one more example on this. You saw a number of my presentations that I did when I was with our mortgage company for home building. The one thing I don’t even think I ever told you this was my first month with the company. I had moved from Chicago. I saw our president, who you know I love but wasn’t the greatest presenter, get up in front of the home builder. They were disgruntled. They didn’t like it. You knew they couldn’t stay in the mortgage company.
What did they do? He got up and talked about how much profit we made the year before and how our margins were growing. This is a group of people that were pissed off about how shitty our rates were. They were overpriced. Here he is bragging about how our margins keep growing. All they’re thinking is, “They’re growing because you are understaffed. You won’t add enough people to support us. Our customers are pissed.” He didn’t put one slide up there on customer service.
I sat in the audience thinking, “He lost them in the first slide when he talked about how much profit we had.” It was a twenty-minute pitch. When he was done, there was no clapping. There was a bunch of grumpy faces, people with their arms crossed, and I was like, “I’m not doing that.” He had no idea how much the audience disliked his company and he went on to prove why in that pitch. It resonated with me of, “You got to know the people you are in front of before you start creating your slides.”
I was at a conference. Someone got on the stage and he talked about the audience. These were people who paid him. He went and put basically a price tag on everyone’s head. It was unbelievable. In the next twelve months, the cancellation rate was astronomical because the audience was forgotten. They were commoditized and they weren’t treated special. They felt the exact opposite.
Tell the story about our chairman who gets up in front of a group of people that make $70,000 and complaining that he had to fly a first-class instead of on his private jet.
I don’t remember that story. I remember the story where our chairman was literally bitching to us that he was going to have to get home late because he had to go to a Monday night football game. He was going to fly in a private jet, sitting in an owner’s box, get in the locker room.
That was it. He was talking about something that like, “1% of 1% could ever have a chance to do it.”
All of us would have plopped down thousands of dollars for the opportunity to do what he didn’t want to do. He was like, “I got to fly to Philly.” I was like, “Are you going to Bell West?” “No. We’re going to the private airport. They’re going to have cheesesteaks there.” This was when Joe Gibbs was the coach of the Washington football team. “You know Joe. Joe talks a lot.” He is bitching about all the stuff that’s a dream for all of us. It’s completely unattainable.
It’s one of the things that you realize, “Presentations can be from the stage, but presentations can also be on your way to the bathroom with the water cooler.” You can be talking to someone in your office and you could lose them as an audience because you don’t talk to them. They need to be talked to. You have one talk track and you are on it versus being relatable.
Reason #3: You Focus On The Wrong Problem
Problem number three with your presentation and why it sucks, you are focused on the wrong problem. I gave that example of a mortgage president talking about how profitable they were, which is a great presentation. Do you know what happened with that? It was a slide deck he used to present to the board. If you are presenting to the board of directors and shareholders, they’re clapping. “That’s great. Look at your profits and margins. Everything is getting better. It’s really smart.” That’s the right problem for the board of directors to show that we’re growing profits and contributing to earnings per share in this way.
When you all of a sudden changed to a different audience, their problem was their customer’s experience was terrible because he was cheap about who he hired, so our talent sucked. He wouldn’t hire enough people, so everyone was overwhelmed and it was mismanaged. That was the problem he needed to be addressing. He needed to be talking about, “Here are the investments we’re making. Here’s how we’re hiring differently. Here are the people we’re bringing in.”
He didn’t talk about any of that. He was focused on the problem of growing earnings, which that audience could care less about. That wasn’t their problem. The audience, all they care about is themselves. They don’t care about what the board cares about. They care about the pain they’re going through and what you are doing about that problem.
I had a conversation with someone from the City of Richmond and we did that over Zoom. It was a good conversation. It was going very well. She asked me a couple of questions and I said, “Can I share a slide deck? I built this for bankers. I didn’t build this for you. It’s not perfect, but I’m going to show you a couple of slides. I’m going to send you an email within 48 hours and I’m going to customize this deck for you because I got to take a few things out. I got to change a little bit, but I’ll show you a few things.”
I took the presentation and some of it was stuff that you and I have built together for one of our deals. I had it in a different presentation pack. What I did was I showed her the overview. I explained it and I said, “I will customize this for you and you’ll have it.” What your president could have done is taken that entire slide deck, taken out 3 or 4 slides and put 3 or 4 slides in that basically changed the frame. It’s a very similar conversation, but it starts and ends somewhere else. The middle was the same, but you know how to customize the message for the audience.
What happens in presentations is a lot of us don’t get to do them again, but in my business, I have enough stuff that we talk about a lot where I haven’t built, or I can slightly reframe it and use it over and over. The presentation I did that was 75-minutes had two of the same slides. They weren’t exactly the same. They were very close and had the same picture and I referenced it. I said, “You’ve already seen this picture earlier and the reason you are seeing it twice is it’s a damn good slide. There’s no sense in redoing it. It’s a beautiful picture.” You get to reuse these things and recapture them if you do it right.
I’ve got one more funny story on this of focused on the wrong problem. A guy who worked for me was a regional manager. We took a bunch of our folks who have been with our company for three months in this position. We brought them together and we were trying to help them, but they were disgruntled because we did a bad job of training them.
We had hired so many people in so short of time that they weren’t performing. Mikey goes to this meeting and his piece that he is going to do is on time management. He has got a bunch of Stephen Covey stuff and the old Eisenhower Matrix, important, not urgent, and time-blocking. Ten minutes into his pitch, they revolt. They were like, “This isn’t our problem. We have 100 customers.” There were maybe 3 or 4 that revolted. I’m making it seem like the whole room, but there were probably 30 people.
There was a handful, maybe five, that unloaded on him like, “You haven’t hired anyone. We’re losing people. I’m going to hear it in customers.” He was there to give a pitch. They took it as, “You are saying we’re the problem that we’re not organized enough, that we’re not good at time management. You are the problem. The problem is you don’t hire well and enough, and we’re all doing way too much damn work. This isn’t about Eisenhower Matrix.”
I’ve been making fun of him about that for many years that he got booed off the stage as a vice-president. It goes to show these people were all close to quitting anyway because they were willing to light up a vice-president on a stage, but they lit him up. It was like the biggest dog of a presentation where he had to call a time-out and say, “Let’s talk. What is going on? What are you dealing with?”
Let’s wrap this up with this. The last two points are you don’t know your audience and you are focused on the wrong problem. Both of those can be summarized as tone-deaf. We all suffer from this from time to time. If you are tone-deaf to the audience or the problem, there is absolutely no way you can give a successful presentation.
In olden times, you’ll probably be dragged off stage and hung, shot, or stabbed. Nowadays, you could lose your job, status, and audience. People could get pissed off and either quit or no longer renew. There are other ways that this happens, but both of them come down to, you aren’t properly connecting and being prepared to deliver the right message.
Reason #4: You Read From Your Presentation Slides
Number four, and this one is particularly galling to me. You read your entire presentation from your slides. There’s a special place in hell for people that do this. I effing hate people that do this. I want to boo and throw eggs. If you start rolling out slides that have hundreds of words on them and you read them bullet by bullet, there’s nothing lazier or more worthless. It’s even worse when you do it virtually with Zoom, where you throw it up about like, “To me, if that’s all your presentation is, email it to us and we’ll read it.”
Write a compelling memo, but you shouldn’t have to look at your slides. You should never have so much written up there that it is your slide. An image, a picture, a few words, a bullet or two are okay. When you have to do this, you are telling me that you didn’t practice much. What you are doing is you are conditioning me early, especially that I’m not going to look at you for the entire time you are up there talking.If you can't get comfortable getting up on the stage, your audience is not going to like it, no matter what. Click To Tweet
I’m going to read your slides and take notes off your slides if I find anything in it of interest, which is highly unlikely if that’s your style. If you are not adding any stories or anecdotes, no one will look at you. Some people that do this, that’s what they want. They’re looking at the slides like, “Look away. Don’t look at me. I’m nervous.” This comes back to being uncomfortable, but I cannot stand people that read their slides.
If you are someone who reads your slides, you are not a public speaker. That’s all there is to it. You are probably being forced into this, or you have a technical skill and they’re saying, “Please share this.” You are not great at it. I have a different presentation style than Ian. Ian prefers to get something in writing and read it, process it, and turn it into his own.
I would prefer to listen. I don’t like to read as much as he does. I don’t like to do that stuff. I like to see it being done and I like to have a lot of backups. My presentations have more words on them than he is, almost always. I don’t read the slide. I have a ton up there and I hit on a couple of overview points. The most important thing is you need to be comfortable. You need to deliver a message that compels and helps the audience. You can choose the method that works best for you.
Simply reading slides to me is not the best use. You shouldn’t be presenting in the first place. If you do your presentation in a way that it gives you comfort to have these words up there and then you can summarize it, that’s fine too. You are probably not going to get paid for that speech, but those are the things that you can focus on to get yourself comfortable and compel the audience.
At a minimum, there’s no need for you to ever be staring at the slide. If you wrote it, you know what’s written up there. Look and talk at the audience. Make eye contact and connect with them. There’s no reason to be staring at your slide and reading things.
There’s something else too. Do you know what a confidence monitor is? A confidence monitor is a monitor that goes in front of the stage that you can look at. You can look down and then you can look at the audience. You don’t have to look over your shoulder the whole time at the presentation behind you. If you are not a public speaker and you do have to speak in front of an audience, ask for a confidence monitor.
If they say no, say, “Can I bring my laptop up and set it on a pedestal?” That way, you can look and look at the audience. There are ways to win. The audience wants you to succeed. The audience wants to be better. That’s the reason they’re there. Figure out these little hacks that are so simple that gives you an ability to not have to read, tell compelling things, and let people absorb it and interact.
Reason #5: Your Presentation Is Too Long
Number five reason why your presentation likely sucks, it’s way too long. Let’s start with a story on this one. It’s a story of a presentation that you did that went askew. Frank, for his 40th birthday, this was in between girlfriends for him. He didn’t have anyone to plan a surprise party. He planned his own 40th birthday party and invited us all down to Florida. It was a hell of a party. It was a lot of fun, but as 40th birthday parties go, we were feeding Frank lots of shots and delicious drinks the whole night. Frank probably should have had a little bit more food in his stomach, but he was pretty loopy.
He came over to me and said, “Should I give a speech?” He was slurring all over. I never see Frank out of control. Unlike me, I’m always out of control when we go out. I was like, “You have to give a speech,” but I know for a fact it’s going to go bad because he could barely talk to me and stand up. He was like, “Really?” I was like, “You will regret it the rest of your life if you don’t get up there and give a pitch.”
The only time I’ve ever seen Frank bomb a pitch in my life was this moment. The only reason is it would have been awesome if it would have been a six-minute pitch, but it ended up being like an hour long. Frank was throwing it on and off in front of everyone. It’s still one of the highlights of my entire life that I was able to persuade Frank to get up there and give a pitch against his better thinking, even in a drunken stupor. The whole reason the pitch wasn’t good was because it was too long. It wasn’t that the material wasn’t great. It was good material. It was just too long.
We had to call Nickel from the ball pen to save me. He is probably giggling as he reads this. It’s one of the worst. It’s one of the things I regret if I ask myself, but I learned a valuable lesson not to fucking rely on Ian on any of his problems. The point is brevity is good.
It’s never a good idea to ask another drunk guy if you are too drunk to go give a pitch. That’s a bad idea in general.
Don’t ask your biggest meathead friend for advice like this because it’s going to backfire on you. The point is quick to the point. What was funny about this is we had an incredible experience. We’ve talked about it. One of our investors in one of our deals owns a bunch of restaurants and he is a gracious guy. He calls me up and he is like, “I’m flying you and Frank to Chicago. We’re going to have this incredible night.”
We ended up having an incredible night. We had bottles of wine. He opened the restaurant just for us. This was during COVID. We had to be very specific. We had to follow a lot of rules. I was compelled to say something. Although I was a bit long, it took less than three minutes to make this speech, and I said thank you. I could have said it shorter if I was sober, but I wasn’t. The point was I learned my lesson from that terrible birthday speech. I said, “I’m overwhelmed with emotion and want to say thanks,” and that’s about it.
In a corporate setting or at a conference, the problem that was in pitches I ever saw were too long. Most things I’ve ever done are too long and that’s because the meeting organizer is dying for content. They charged you $1,000 to get in the door or they’re trying to run an all-day corporate meeting. They say, “Ian, you have an hour in our meeting agenda,” because they’re trying to fill it up. That’s the way it works.
In the first builder meeting I ever went to, I had ten minutes on the agenda. By the time I was done years later, I had 45 minutes on the agenda. They were trying to fill time. I knew that. My presentations went too long, but I was being asked to take time up. Part of this is the organizer makes this problem. Part of that is you can open up parts of it for Q&A. You can interact more through if you don’t have enough material to expand the 45 minutes.
You can put an exercise in. You can do a couple of other things. You know what a TED Talk is. TED Talks are limited in time. There are different lenses, but they’re usually about eighteen minutes or less. TED Talk started becoming popular in 2008, 2009, and 2010. You started to hear about them. They’ve been going on for so many years. They finally started to broadcast these and put them over the internet, and people could watch them.
The best story I ever heard about TED Talk and my first experience or exposure to a TED Talk was Tony Robbins. I was at a Tony Robbins event in 2009 and he talked about this thing he did at TED Talk. The TED Talk was eighteen minutes. Tony Robbins walked up on stage and goes, “I’m going to struggle with these eighteen minutes. My normal speech is 50 hours and I have eighteen minutes.” This thing went viral.
To me, it was the thing that compelled others to watch TED Talks because he took 50 hours’ worth of stuff and he gave you a brief overview in eighteen minutes. It was incredible. He told stories. He has got an incredible stage presence. He has been doing it for years, but he dominated those eighteen minutes. He edited it down. He took it and created something different because of the length of time. That’s why TED Talks are so incredibly valuable and popular because you know exactly how long they are. They’re all under twenty minutes.
Almost every TED Talk, if you go look at the average, is 12 to 16 minutes because it’s supposed to be to the point and succinct. That is a perfect time for, no matter how big of a material, you have to get something through. To go back to the TechCrunch Disrupt, you have six minutes to tell everyone about your story, your team, the total available market, the problem, how you are going about solving it, how you are financed, and giving a live demo.
It forces you to hone down, carve it, and whittle away until you are at the essence of everything. By the time it was over, you are not saying, “I wish I had two more minutes.” The truth is, it’s the old Mark Twain, “I’m sorry to have written you a long letter. If I had more time, I might have written a short one.” It takes time to think about it, but through iteration, you get to the bare minimum that’s 6, 15, and 20 minutes. That’s about all you need to crush a good presentation and most are just too long.
Reason #6: You Don’t Know Your Material Well Enough
Number six reason why your presentation sucks, you don’t know your material well enough. This is you didn’t do your homework or you are speaking about something without relative experience and it’s obvious to everyone that you are speaking theoretically. I find that this is an easy person to out by listening to them. If you are one of the subject experts in the audience, you normally can find it out pretty fast.
I don’t know if there’s much to add here. If you know you don’t know your material, but you are being asked to speak on something, the best example I can give of this is a personal story. I was charismatic, relatively handsome, recently graduated from college, and I had gotten promoted. I moved up pretty quickly in my first eighteen months.
I decided within two years of me graduating from college to put me on college campuses. They sent me to the University of Florida. I was in front of a group of 30 kids and I had a slide deck that was corporate-made. I looked at these kids that were two years younger than me and I looked at the slide. I said, “I got to be honest with you. I have absolutely no idea what this slide means. This was made at corporate.”
It probably had the CAGR, Compound Annual Growth Rate, or something.
I said, “I can’t tell completely sure what’s happening here, but everything is in green and things are pointing up. It looks good to me. I’m going to go to the next slide.” The room erupted with laughter. Everybody understood that I didn’t know it. I went on to something I knew and I talked about more, but I very quickly got over it because I didn’t know it. I knew the other stuff and I was compelling, but I was honest in that moment. If you don’t know all of your stuff, it’s harder.If they're not struggling with something that you figured out, you probably shouldn't be talking. Click To Tweet
Reason #7: You Lost Your Audience In The First Minute
Number seven reason why your presentation sucks, you lost me in the first minute. Primacy effect, we remember most what we saw first. It matters the first minute you walk on stage. From the second we see you coming from behind a curtain or up the steps, we’re already making a decision on whether we like you and we want to listen to you or not. I see most people not putting enough thought into connecting and not paying attention to this unconscious bias that people have.
It ends up ruining the whole pitch for me because I’ve made my mind up 30 seconds in that, “You are boring and I don’t want to listen to you. This is going to suck.” That’s usually why you see so many people get up to take a leak two minutes into someone’s pitch because they’ve made their mind up that, “This is the time. I’ve been holding it, but this is the pitch I don’t need to watch anymore.”
What’s worse is when everyone’s heads are down. Everybody is doing this. They’re looking down at their phones. Their heads are down. You are up on stage and someone is up there and is doing it. They’re in their email or on their phone. They’re taking a leak, they’re at the bar, or they’ve gone outside. That’s it. You’ve lost the audience.
I come back to tone-deaf a lot. If you have lost the audience, this is Tony Robbins too. Tony Robbins makes people jump around to do all these things for constant engagement. If you look on the internet, he is all over the place with how he gets people engaged. If you are not a professional speaker but you’ve lost your audience, be honest with it. Call it out, “I seem to have lost you. I’m sorry. I have 30 minutes to be up here. My goal is to accomplish this. Maybe let’s get into Q&A.”
Be honest. Look at the audience and if they’re not paying attention to you, but most people aren’t honest. They just drone on and they’re paying attention to themselves. You can change that dynamic very quickly by doing an impromptu Q&A, doing other things, making people stand up, asking a couple of questions to the audience, or calling someone out. There are a bunch of ways to get it back, but if you’ve lost the audience and you are not honest about it, it’s a waste of time for everybody.
You have to win the first minute. I give so much time in my mind to how I’m going to win the first minute. Frank and I talked a little bit about this before. Here are some ways you can win the first minute. Start with a story. I love a story. I love someone that comes up and there are no slides. They start telling a story and you are wondering where it is going to go.
Start with a joke either about yourself, about the person who introduced you, about the previous speaker’s presentation, or about the problem the audience is facing. I’m a big fan of the prison yard strategy, which is, if I were to ever go to prison, they always tell you, “The first thing you should do is go punch the biggest guy.”
I usually crush the highest-level vice president in the room. I’ll pick on someone high up in the room and make a little joke about them. They usually like it and the audience always loves that. You can start with a question. You can start a Frank scene. People that aren’t great presenters have nice videos. Start with a video that captures the imagination and gets the attention of people. You can do audience participation early. I used to always start my annual meeting with a skit.
We would do a cold open like Saturday Night Live where I would have 3 or 4 people who worked for me up on a stage with microphones, acting out a skit for something that the whole company was going through that was humorous and fun. It wasn’t about me. It was about them and the team. My job was always to win the first minute, to get your attention and make you think, “I’m going to like watching the rest of this. I can’t wait to see what’s next. This is not the pitch I’m going to the bathroom on. I’m going to wait and check this out.”
What will happen is you’ll get a reputation of that if you are good at this over time. It propels you through your career. This was something that Ian talked about. He used to be 10 minutes and he was up to 50 minutes. Ian was doing fifteen annual meetings by the end. You were doing all of them. You became a sideshow or skit that they will plop in.
Getting comfortable in winning the first few minutes is critical, but I want to say the following. I don’t remember what award show it was, but Adele was up there on a piano and she started off bad. It’s Adele. It’s live and there are millions of people watching. What she did was she stopped and said, “I’m so nervous. I’m covering the song. This person is my hero. I have so much pressure and I did terribly. I’m sorry. I’m going to start over,” and she did.
The crowd went crazy when she said it because it was so raw.
When she finished, they went nuts. Win the first few minutes.
What’s crazy is she felt it. You and I are not experts. I didn’t know she screwed it up. She is so talented. It mattered to her.
When she owned it and said it, she bought immediate credibility with the audience. To Ian and me, it sounded the same, but to her, it was better and everybody loved it. It’s like if you ever listened to your favorite artists and they say the name of the city. They throw the name of the city and everyone goes nuts. It doesn’t take a lot.
Let’s say you are not a professional speaker. You’ve been asked. You do it and you screw up. The first three minutes don’t go the way you want. Apologize, ask for a reset, and give yourself a chance to breathe. Shut your microphone off for 30 seconds, “I need to take a quick drink of water.” Do something to reset the frame. Three wasted minutes is way better than 30 wasted minutes. The audience will give you incredible grace if you are smart enough to ask for it.
I’m going to use an example that we did together. This is important on this loss in the first minute. Even if you have an organizer of an event or the previous person before you do an incredible introduction for you, you could be so lucky. That’s helpful when you have someone who does a nice introduction to build you up before you come on. You still have to win the first minute.
Frank invited me to an event and I was there speaking on leadership and building teams. He did an unbelievable job. He spent fifteen minutes way longer than I expected him to, talking about successes I had in my career and getting the audience excited for me to talk. I didn’t need much else in that. The audience was primed. He had them excited. Frank is a person they respect and look up to. When he says, “There’s a guy I respect and look up to,” I didn’t need to.
Instead, what I did was even though he did all that for me, I went up there. I made two jokes about Frank. I forgot the first one, but the second one was about his skinny jeans. I did the, “Start with a joke about the most senior person in the room.” I picked on him. The presentation before me was about legacy and how to sell your company. I didn’t have this ready, but I said, “I want to talk about something really quick on that previous presentation, which I thought was awesome.”
I told the story about my father-in-law and how he is struggling to sell his business because he hadn’t set up an organization. It’s the same problem they went through. Three, I told the story, self-deprecating about myself. I told my Lionel Richie story, ripping on myself. I used three different things to connect with that audience, even though Frank spent that much time setting me up because he could set me up all he wanted. If I blew the first couple of minutes, they would be like, “That’s why he set him up so much. He is not a good presenter.”
One of the things that we train on in sales is buyer’s remorse. Buyer’s remorse is when you don’t properly set the hook. You don’t get at the need and the problem. By not getting to the problem, the person then left to their own devices has remorse and they try and cancel. I was on the phone with somebody on basically convincing him to come work at our company, and he was a yes. I stopped and said, “It sounds to me like you are ready to sign, but I need to dig a little bit deeper. I want to understand this more.”
When we train salespeople, I tell them they’re being lazy like, “Don’t be lazy. Do the extra work.” Ian had it. His fundamentals are so strong. He wasn’t lazy. He took the extra initiative. He had inertia. He built more of it. Those are the things that you do in sales interactions, interview interactions, and presentations. The fundamentals are there. What could have happened is Ian could have skipped it and went right into it. What Ian did is he took the momentum I gave him and he built on it.
This was a big four-hour presentation. It absolutely served him for the rest of that presentation because he did the foundation right, plus the Q&A. The next day, he was mobbed because he was likable. He got a good intro for me, but then he did something funny against me. He did all the right stuff. It turned into this momentous event where it didn’t have to be that way if he didn’t do the steps.
Reason #8: You Are Not Likeable
Number eight reason why your presentation sucks, you are not likable. Likable is almost relatable as well. Frank’s example with the Seinfeld commercial in London is great, where he is telling American jokes in London and he wasn’t relating to his audience that well. It’s obvious when someone is trying to be someone they’re not. I would always say, “Lean on being yourself.” Being authentic comes through to people. Always be self-deprecating.
Make sure that if you have reached a level of success and you probably have if you are presenting. Someone has asked you to present. You’ve been successful at something in some field. If that’s the case, make sure they always know that it wasn’t always the case. You weren’t born successful. The just-like-me presenter is the best. That’s the one that grabs me the most, it’s The Rock saying, “When I got cut from the Canadian Football League, I had $7 in my pocket.”You have got to know the people you're in front of before you start creating your slides. Click To Tweet
He loves to tell a story. He built a company called Seven Bucks Productions. He tells that story all the time because he wants all of his followers to know, “I was broke. I was thinking of killing myself. I was depressed. I didn’t know where I was going in my life. I was 25 when this happened. I needed some breaks, but I had to work.” He loves to do that. Be positive, uplifting, and all those things, but relate to the audience that you understand the place they’re at in their life.
I’m going to say the same thing I’ve said 3 or 4 times. If you aren’t relatable and likable, talk about it. Be honest, “I suck on stage. I’m not terribly likable up here.” It’s amazing if you embrace honesty.
That’s likable when someone is admitting something like that. What you are saying there is to be candid. Be honest with what you are going through up there. People will relate to that like, “I don’t like getting up there either. That’s why I’m in the audience.”
“I hope to add value, but I hate being on stage. I’m going to probably fumble this. I’m going to do my best. I’m going to keep it short.”
If that’s true, that relates to more of the audience than less because they’re in the audience for a reason and not presenting for a reason.
It’s either learn or know your audience. Do all the steps we talked about, like Ian did in the intro. Own the fact that you don’t belong on that stage, “I know I don’t belong up here. I don’t feel comfortable up here. I’m sorry. I’m going to be up here. I’m going to go quick. I’m going to try and add value, and then I’ll be at the bar where I’m more comfortable. Come talk to me.” If you do that, you own it.
Reason #9: You Have No Solution, Or Have The Wrong Solution
Number nine, you have the wrong solution or no solution at all. For me, this is where the hero’s journey comes in. It’s in almost every American movie you’ve ever seen. You may just not know it. Almost every character in the Star Wars Trilogy goes through the hero’s journey where they’re in one place. They grind and go through this terrible stress and strife. They find some little eureka moment. They change. They become someone different and then they find success.
If people are struggling and you know their problem, and you had that same problem at some point, talk about what that solution was for you and how that solution helped you break through to the success you have now. That’s the only thing in my mind when I think of the solution and I’m talking, “Here’s a problem and a solution.”
Let’s take Keep and this connected car alarm and the platform we have. David talked about the problem. “People kept breaking into my car. I went to Amazon and googled. I found the same old crappy car alarm solutions and then I invented Keep. Now, Keep keeps me safe and protected.” It’s got its own hero arc journey, even though we don’t even know the product yet. Come up with a solution that solves problems with the people in the audience.
If you are unclear on what the problems of the audience are and you are not building a product, ask. There are microphones on either side, “What is it about this problem that you want my help with?” Being honest and not trying to fake it. I’m not someone who feels comfortable faking it. I feel the most authentic when I can be myself and real. I encourage that of you because audiences react positively.
Reason #10: You Did NotLeave A Compelling Call TO Action
Number ten, it doesn’t matter what you are presenting. If you are a salesperson giving a pitch or an executive trying to motivate and inspire a company to change, all of this is the same. The whole point of a presentation is to convince a group of people to act and break from the status quo in some way. Number ten reason why your presentation sucks, you left me with nothing compelling to act on what I left.
There’s a big one for Frank, especially at masterminds, because you are speaking to people as an authority figure, as someone who has seen some relative level of success they have not seen. Your whole job is to give value. These are paying customers in front of you. Convince them to act so that their life changes in a better way.
You either need to give them something compelling to act on or they need something to remember that compels them. This is non-tangential, but I’m going to use it anyway. My business was built on postcards. I sent postcards in the mail in the 21st century and it built my business. On every postcard, on the front, it was written twice. On the back, it was three times. It was bold and underlined. It was a phone number. There was a call to action and a phone number. It was five times on every single postcard.
The reason was I was sending this to you because I wanted you to call me. I never lost sight of the action. The action was I wanted you to call. It was through a simple, stupid postcard. It was written five times on a 3×5 card. You don’t need to get too fancy. Stick and stay with it. It’s the same thing in a presentation. No matter how small or how big, understand what the call-to-action is, “What do you want to compel people to?”
It’s like the eulogy. If you’ve ever heard the story, if you write your eulogy and you think about what you want people to say about you when you are dead, and you live your life that way, you will get to your eulogy. For me, a presentation starts at the end, “What do I want to leave you with, take away, and remember?” I work through a thesis statement, presentation, story, and engagement to get you to a point where that is what you are. It’s absolutely 100% clear what my purpose was.
Something you said is compelling. In our TechCrunch pitch, the last thing that David says at the end is, “Go to Keep.Tech, our website. We are offering 100 free Knight devices. It’s a $300 value for the first people that sign up on our waiting list. We’ll be doing that on November 1, 2021. That little piece right there, go to our website, sign up, no money, and you could win one of these devices.”
With an expiration date.
It’s a compelling reason to act and he finished his pitch with that. Even though it was a pitch competition, we still were trying to get people to go sign up to follow our waitlists. Hopefully, we’ve been compelling enough that’s a good product. If you like what we had to say, go try to win a free one.
For those of you that found value, please like us and thumb this up. Follow and subscribe as friends. Not only that, if you are afraid to give a presentation, do it. Set a goal and date. Get in front of people. Do it and practice. I’ll leave you with this. Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the history of the world, says the thing that was the most valuable in his life was going to a speaking class where he literally had to learn how to give public speeches in front of an audience.If you are someone who reads your slides, you're not a public speaker. That's all there is to it. Click To Tweet
It forced and compelled him to do this. He did it in the late ’50s or early ’60s. He lived to 90. He has had 70 good years to practice. It was the thing that has changed him from a smart, successful investor to one of the icons in business because he got comfortable in front of a crowd and could deliver a compelling message.
If we’ve changed your life in any way, go to Apple Podcasts, give us a five-star review, and write some nice comments. Tell as many of your friends about this episode, who you know have to get in front of groups on a regular basis because it has delivered such dynamic value to you. Frank, it has been great hanging out with you.
It’s always a pleasure.