Nothing brings the workday to a screeching halt like an uninspired business presentation.
Every day, well-meaning workers gather colleagues, clients and potential customers into conference rooms, eager to share their ideas, insights or sales pitches. Sadly, that zeal rarely translates onto a compelling experience.
Scripted speeches often fall on deaf ears and slides light up the screen with all the excitement of an interoffice memo. It's easy to chalk up presentations as a boring, time-sucking rite of passage in the business world, but new research from Harris Poll and Prezi, a cloud-based presentation software specialist from San Francisco, suggests that there is more on the line than simply wasted time.
Stifled yawns, glazed-over eyes and blazing smartphone screens aren't just signs that audiences are disinterested; they are evidence that professionals are overlooking a critical career-building skill.
The Harris Poll survey of 2,031 U.S. adults revealed that a majority of those who present (70 percent) feel that presentations skills are critical to their success. Seventy-five percent wish they could be better presenters.
Presentation Software Slides into Boredom
In short, slide-based presentation software is letting today's workforces down. A majority of presenters, 65 percent, described traditional slides as boring and ineffective. Thirty-three percent were worried about connecting with their audiences, while 23 percent struggled with creating visually appealing presentations.
Some people go to extreme lengths to avoid giving a presentation. Twelve percent of employed respondents said that they would hand off their duties as presenters to someone else, even if it meant losing the respect of their peers. Nine percent would fake an illness.
Others combat their jitters in potentially not-safe-for-work ways. Seven percent of employed survey takers said they would be willing to reach for pills, while five percent would down a shot of alcohol. Seven percent said that they would imagine their audience members naked.
The ability to craft and deliver engaging presentations can mean the difference between a small business venture that rockets to success or struggles to stay afloat.
Forget Lists, Tell Stories
Competition is fierce in today's business climate, according to Peter Arvai, CEO of Prezi. "The stakes are higher than ever before," he told Small Business Computing. Once the sole province marketing departments, practically all parts of a modern business place a premium on the "ability to tell the story well," to motivate employees, and to drum up business.
Yet, the study's findings indicate that despite this realization, many presenters fail to engage their audiences.
Of the 984 employed respondents, nearly half confessed to being distracted during a co-worker's presentation. The top activities competing for the audience's attention: sending text messages (28 percent); checking email (27 percent); and surfing the Internet (19 percent).
Some respondents escaped the tedium by fleeing to Facebook and other social media sites (11 percent). Others simply succumbed and fell asleep (17 percent).
Naturally, not everyone oozes charisma. But most slide-based presentation software is to blame for this sorry state of affairs, says Arvai.
"Your brain doesn't think in terms of slides and bullet points," said Arvai. Instead, people draw insight, inspiration and lasting awareness from the connections between ideas and concepts. "From that, you can derive all sorts of context and important information," he said.
It's a notion Arvai's company uses for its own Prezi software. Instead of bullet points and static charts, Prezi stresses those connections by linking each step in a visually-rich journey. Viewers are treated to dynamic animations that zoom in and out of each of those steps. "It creates a space where you can understand the big picture," said Arvai.
Prezi's approach has been shown to improve understanding and the retention of information, according to Arvai. Customers have reported that "[deal] close rates went up by 30 percent" after basing their presentations on Prezi.
Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.
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