I once was part of a group presentation that was due to get together for the first time at a big conference. I had spoken with three of the fellow panelists via phone several weeks beforehand, but never managed to connect with the last participant.
I never met her until about an hour before the presentation. By the time the presentation was over, I wish I'd never met her.
What I, and the other panelists didn't know, was that she was one of the most boring, long-winded people ever to walk the face of the earth. At one point during her part of the presentation, I looked out into the audience and saw someone pretending to hang herself.
Yes, it was that bad.
She made us all look bad, despite our preparation beforehand. Because we couldn't connect with her before our gig, we had no idea that she talked in a complete monotone. And used obscure research to support her points. And never looked at the audience, but read directly from her notes.
That's why I hope you'll find this column I did for Gannett/USAToday on group presentations helpful....
We've all been there: While listening to a team presentation, we start to find it amusing when the team seems about as coordinated as a duck on roller skates.
The PowerPoint is out of whack with the information being given, and one team member appears to be confused when it's his turn to speak.
Another team member rolls her eyes while another flips through his notes as if seeing them for the first time
While this can seem a bit funny to the audience, it's anything but amusing when you're part of a team presentation disaster. Not only could you lose a potential client or look bad in front of higher-ups, but your professional reputation takes a hit.
Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking, has advised many teams and individuals on how to give effective presentations. He says presentations involving multiple individuals have unique problems.
"We have become very dependent on PowerPoint," he says. "But it's just a tool. Too many teams are relying on them or their 'pitch books.' They put all their time into those and literally have no time left to practice how they'll present it."
While one or two members might practice their information, failing to work together beforehand often spells disaster, he says.
One team member might fail to inform the others that he or she is nervous about speaking publicly. If the others are unaware a team member might become tongue-tied, they can't prepare.
The presentation might come to a grinding halt when the petrified presenter can't give information smoothly.
Or a lack of preparation might mean PowerPoint glitches aren't discovered until the actual presentation. Then team members are scrambling to correct them while another tries to cover the goof.
"With a team presentation, you're only as strong as your weakest link," Eventoff says. "You've got to work on the details. Where should each person look while the other person is speaking? One person might need to watch for audience reaction while the others look at the presenter.
"You don't want to take the chance of one person just gazing out the window while the team members are presenting. If someone looks confused or bored or disgusted, then that becomes the message to the audience," he says.
Teams often don't realize that if they visually and verbally stumble, "people are going to be gone no matter the beauty of the presentation," Eventoff says.
A client could choose another vendor, or you could fail to convince an audience of a key message.
"You're certainly not going to compel people to move in the direction you want," he says.
Teams can improve their presentations in several ways, Eventoff says. Among them:
• Get together. Even if you're in far-flung locations, use Skype to practice the presentation as a team. That way you can fine-tune, working on issues such as transitions and timing.
It's always ideal to meet in person and even visit the presentation room beforehand.
• Learn to edit. "Your information is never as important to your audience as it is to you," he says. It's critical to make your information as concise as possible, which can be a bit tricky with multiple people participating.
But look for inconsistencies, repetitive messages and other fluff that can cause a presentation to drag.
• Don't miss critical points. Whether you're part of an individual or group presentation, the most important elements are a strong opening and a solid, well-defined, compelling message.
Without those elements, "the audience will tune out," Eventoff says.
• Keep it tight. Any time you have more than four people making a presentation, "you start going into choppy waters," he says.
Too many presenters make it difficult for the audience to focus on the presentation — and can lead to more chances of things going wrong.