Nine Reasons Why Presentations Fail

failure-1160971-639x635I’ve heard every excuse in the world for why presentations fail. Here are some doozies:
“I didn’t get enough sleep last night.”
“There wasn’t enough time to prepare.”
“My boss just threw me in there without warning.”
“I got lost so I was late. It threw me off my game.”
“The moon was in the wrong phase.”

What is common about all of these? They are excuses, and not very good ones. Here’s MY list of why most presentations fail:

1) No Connection to Real Issues

Presentations fail when they are not linked to solving the exact needs of a client. You have to make that link rather than trusting the client will do it for you. Like a lawyer to a jury, you must present beyond a reasonable doubt that your recommendation matches a mission-critical need the client has. A sure-fire way to know that your presentation won’t connect is if you’ve given it before! A “canned” presentation is, in my opinion, arrogant. It says that you didn’t care enough to tailor your recommendation because you think your client should just buy into what you’re saying. If you don’t have several moments in your presentation where you say, “What this means to your business is…..” then you didn’t do the work to connect the dots for them.

2) Lack of Flexibility

You’ll see later in this post that I recommend rehearsing a presentation. However, that’s to build confidence, not so you get stuck on a “script.” Most presentations fail when they are so rigid that there is no room for commenting, questioning and generating new ideas. You want your client to be engaged and you should encourage conversation about your recommendation. I always say, “Listen first, sell second.” But too many times, I see leaders and salespeople so focused on delivering the presentation, or “getting through it,” that they lose their audience. The next thing that happens is the client says, “Ok, thanks. We will get back to you.” No, they most likely won’t.

3) Content Not Prioritized

So many times I see presentations prioritized by what the presenter wants to say rather than what the audience wants to hear. This is a failure of research. If you don’t have a strong idea of what your client wants or needs, then you have to work harder to find out. Did you do a pre-presentation call with stakeholders, finding out their needs? Did you study the industry trends and key issues? Are you prepared with a list of open-ended probing questions? Once you’re armed with information, become the client. Structure your presentation based on what you believe they will want to learn, and in what order. What this does is demonstrate understanding, rather than just knowledge, which should get your client’s attention!

4) Too Long

More is not better. I’ve heard hundreds of presentations that are just too dang long! You have too? We all know the type…they are packed with so much information that none of it is memorable. Think about the best presentations you’ve heard. There was a rhythm to them. They flowed well. Like a good song, there was just enough to stick with you throughout the day. Your presentation should be music to your client’s ears, not a test of endurance.

5) All Text, No Graphics


Did I get your attention? Visual representations that support points you are making orally go a long way towards conveying your message….without you having to say it. This sample chart clearly says something is growing over time, a powerful image as you deliver your key messages. Pictures are worth a thousand words….so use them!

6) Too Many Qualifiers

I think this reason might be really important to you. Not very convincing there, was I? As I’ve written about before, using qualifiers, such as “I think,” as you make your recommendations weakens your position. Sure, sometimes qualifiers are necessary. But most of the time, presentations are time for boldness. Being tentative is not going to win over your clients and get them to accept your recommendation. Tentative behavior slows down your momentum and reduces the confidence your client has in your ability to recommend strong solutions.

7) Questions Are Not Discovered and Resolved

Just about every presenter I’ve ever seen says some form of this at the opening, “And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask. I want this to be an open discussion.” I don’t believe them. Why? Because they stumble so badly when someone actually does interrupt and asks a question. Too many times, the answer is “That’s a good question. I’m going to answer that a few slides from now so, why don’t we keep going.” Wrong! They want, and deserve, an answer now. Give it to them. Resolving their issue will get their minds off of it so that they can pay attention to the rest of what you have to say. And if you don’t know the answer…that can be a GOOD thing. It’s an opportunity for you to ask a few clarifying questions, through which you will get to the real heart of the matter. Just make sure you ask the right questions.

8) It Wasn’t Rehearsed

“I’ve done this before so, I can just wing it.” If you say this, well, what a great predictor of doom! Practice your presentations. You don’t have to do it out loud each time but, what you must do is become crystal clear about your content, the transitions you will make and the key points you want your audience to remember. Write down questions you anticipate being asked and rehearse the answers you want to give. Rehearse in front of your peers or video tape yourself. Overkill? Not at all. Your body language can say a lot.

9) No Closing

Oh my…the number of times I’ve seen people deliver great presentations yet not ask for what they came to get is astounding! If you remember anything from this post it is this….delivering the presentation is NOT the goal. Say that out loud the next time you are giving a presentation to a client. It will remind you that you have to close! You have to know what you want out of the meeting or you’ll never get it. And then if you don’t ask for it, how can you expect it to happen? Be sure to have a strong close such as, “I’m confident I’ve answered all your questions. As I see it, the next step is to create a formal proposal that you can review internally. Does that work for you?” Whatever the close is, make sure you don’t leave without delivering it or, you’ve just wasted your, and their, time.

I hope this helps with your next presentation. Much of this post was taken from a book I wrote a few years ago, “Beating the Deal Killers, Overcoming Murphy’s Law (and other Sales Nightmares).” If you found these tips helpful, the book has a lot more so give it a read!

The last time you delivered a presentation that you thought failed, which of these reasons was the cause? Let me know in a Reply below. Thanks! -SG