Have you heard we only use 10% of our brains? If you have, you’ve bought into a popular myth. While that myth is harmless, others like, “The flu vaccination can give you the flu” can produce some harmful consequences.
I’ve run across a number of presentation myths over the years: New techniques hailed as “the latest, greatest idea.” Old rules passed down from generation to generation. Blindly followed, some of these myths can create real damage to your credibility and even derail your entire presentation.
Here are 5 myths I see floating around today that need to be busted.
5 Harmful Myths about Sales Presentations
Myth 1: Follow the 18-minute Ted Talk Rule.
Ted Talks have done a fantastic job of proving that it is possible to communicate effectively in a shorter amount of time. But there is nothing magical about 18-minutes. And trying to squeeze content necessary to address multiple customer needs or solutions into this arbitrary time frame can be disastrous.
The 18-minute rule was based on one neuroscience study and Ted Talk curator Chris Anderson’s opinion that 18-minutes is “short enough to hold people’s attention, including on the Internet, and precise enough to be taken seriously.” Even presentation guru Carmine Gallo (who once suggested all business pitches should follow the 18 minute rule) has done an about face. Here’s why salespeople should ignore this myth:
- Your scope and goals are different. 18-minutes is great for a Ted Talk, which focuses on a single idea and the goal of entertaining or building awareness. Salespeople likely have several ideas to present and their objective is to change behavior. That often requires more than 18-minutes.
- It is possible to maintain audience attention longer than 18-minutes. Human attention wanes after 10 minutes, however you can refresh your audience’s attention by engaging them through questions, video, or polls. Do this repeatedly and you can keep people engaged over a longer period of time.
Myth 2: Save the Best for Last.
If you’re taking 10, 20, or 30 minutes to get to the thing that matters most to your customer, you are too late! Here’s why:
- Attention spans are significantly lower later in the presentation
- Executives have often left the room
- Remaining customers are on information overload
- You may run out of time
Want proof? Gong.io analyzed 67,000+ SAAS demos and concluded that showing the customer the end result first was a more successful approach than holding it back until the end. The moral? Frontload the good stuff if you want to increase your success rate.
Myth 3: Presentations should follow the 10-20-30 Rule.
I’m a fan of Guy Kawasaki but disagree with his advice that presentations should use 10 slides or less, be no longer than 20 minutes, and use at least 30 point type. In my experience, bad presentations can have three slides or 103 slides and they can last 10 minutes or an hour.
Ultimately it is not the number of slides or minutes that determine whether a presentation is good or bad. It’s the quality of those slides, how they’re presented, and the story that you tell with them that determines whether your presentation hits the mark with your audience.
Myth 4: Too much practice will make you appear unnatural.
Imagine telling Michael Phelps to spend less time in the pool! Practice allows you to internalize your content so that you don’t have to struggle for words or meaning. It frees you up to place your energy and focus on your audience – where it belongs. So why shortchange yourself by skipping practice?
It’s not the act of practicing that makes you appear unnatural. But practicing incorrectly and reinforcing ineffective behaviors certainly can. Old-school techniques like pre-determining precisely what words to emphasize, where to pause, smile or gesture can create a mechanical delivery pattern that is painful for an audience to watch and tough for a presenter to break.
Myth 4: Never read from your slides.
Of course it is never acceptable to read every slide to your audience or to use your slides as a crutch. But when presenters take this advice to the extreme – by either ignoring your slides entirely or competing with them for attention – they inadvertently create audience confusion and tune out.
Here are some times when it makes sense to read from your slide:
- When your slide has a short quote, statistic or key message on it, go ahead and read it out loud. Your audience will be reading it anyway.
- When you have something in 30+ point type on your slide, it’s important enough for you to mention. If you fail to call out something on screen that is literally SCREAMING for attention, your audience will wonder why, and suddenly you’ve lost them.
Myth 5: Always save Q&A for the end.
When you save Q&A for the end of your presentation you relinquish control of how your presentation ends. What if you get a question you can’t answer or one that incites negative discussion? What if an audience member keeps the rest of the group hostage with a barrage of questions? Instead of leaving your audience with a powerful message, they end up remembering only the negative experience. Take control back by carving out a finite amount of time for questions before your closing.
Don’t let harmful myths derail your presentation. Stay up to date on your Presentation IQ by getting monthly tips and tactics to make most of those hard-won customer-facing moments.