It was a close one. I almost tripped and fell into a presentation pitfall. I knew about this pitfall, having written about it in a blog article in 2011. Yet I walked blindly toward it. What was I thinking?
Here’s the back story: I was preparing materials for an upcoming half-day workshop on advanced networking skills for new business development for a client in the business advisory and consulting industry. I had run this course in 2013 for the same client. It was time to dust off the materials and do it again. I needed to reformat the handout using my updated brand logo and colors. I was up against a deadline and didn’t want to invest too much time or effort in “re-inventing the wheel.” It worked well in 2013, so there was no reason to feel it wouldn’t work well in 2016.
That’s when I noticed the number of pages in the handout that I planned to use during the class. It was 47 pages long. Holy guacamole, I thought. That’s not a handout, that’s a book! My handout, while printed, was no different than a lengthy, boring, text-laden PowerPoint slide show. Like those types of presentations, my handout was sure to bore my audience to death as well.
Still I struggled. I knew it was wrong to copy and paste, but I had invested so much time and money developing this handout a few years ago. I didn’t have time to redo the whole thing from scratch. So I copied the old handout and put it in the new branded format. Then I spent more time reviewing, revising, adding more content to it. Then I engaged other members of my team, including proof reader and marketing assistant, to scrub it and make it work for the new situation. I was becoming confused with what I was trying to accomplish. And I was concerned that I was headed for something totally unacceptable: mediocrity.
Does this sound familiar? It should because it is one of the most common presentation pitfalls: Copy and paste preparation. Nearly every professional I know employs copy and paste preparation when they are getting ready for a presentation. They rationalize this bad habit as efficiency.
In my new book, Stop Global Boring, I advise readers to avoid this dangerous presentation pitfall. Here’s what I say on page 62 of this new manifesto:
“Each presentation is a unique situation. If your approach to preparing is to copy and paste old presentation material and then add more slides, you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your audience. Start each presentation with a clean sheet of paper. Literally.”
Why risk it?
Copy and paste preparation leads to many negative impacts, including:
- slide deck proliferation
- not addressing your new audience’s specific needs or desires
- outdated information
- embarrassing mistakes (like having the name of the old client/event on your new slides)
- lackadaisical or nervous energy in the final presentation performance
- frustration and confusion experienced by both speaker and audience
- running overtime…47 pages??
- wasted time and money for all involved
- opportunity lost
Give every audience your very best
Don’t serve left-overs to your next audience. Don’t show them an old re-run movie. Give them a new production created just for them. How do you do this? You start by setting aside everything that you’ve done before, and start with a clean sheet.
I have a cool tool that can help you do just that. It’s called Clean Sheet Thinking. In less than 30 minutes, you can create your high-level game plan for your upcoming presentation, without bringing the old baggage with you. This tool allows you to reflect on the strategic objectives of the upcoming presentation and what kind of experience you want for your audience.
When do you use it? You use Clean Sheet Thinking before you open up PowerPoint software, before you build any slides, before you shop for images, and before you update or create your handout. You use Clean Sheet Thinking before everything!
That’s what I’m doing with my next presentation. I’m going back to the very beginning. I’m starting all over again, knowing that just because I did it before with some other group, doesn’t mean it will work with this new group. This new audience deserves my very best. They are going to get it…..and more.
Once you complete your Clean Sheet Thinking game plan, you can move on to the next steps in building your high-engagement presentation. These presentation tools will help:
- SWAMPUM – sharpen your presentation key message
- 4Mat System – conceptualize the order of your presentation
- The Full Nelson – build out the content and flow of your presentation
- Timed Agenda – manage time in your presentation
- My Quote Log – incorporate inspiring quotes in your presentation
- My Story Log – identify what stories you can tell to help make your points
- Storytelling Template – shape each story to make a clear and compelling point
I will use each of these tools before I open up PowerPoint software to create slides (or update slides) for my client presentation. Why do I go to all of this effort when I could just re-use what I already have from past presentations? Because I am committed to hitting this out of the ball park. I want to do my very best for my client. They deserve it..and so do I.
p.s. All of these tools and more are available in a new on-line product called The Control Center. Why not purchase and download the suite of twelve writable-pdf forms at my store?
p.p.s. Clean Sheet Thinking is available free of charge…because I want you and everyone in your organization to adopt it as a best practice in your presentation preparation process.