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3 Presentation Mistakes Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs Make (and How to Avoid Them)

Avoid these common pitfalls and your audience will remember you for the right reasons.

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BY Chris Chong - 06 Oct 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Most of us have experienced a dull, irrelevant, or confusing presentation. And let’s be honest, if you’re giving a presentation every month to your team on the latest batch of statistics, you’ll rarely have a company announcement to blow their minds with.

But there are those who can make even the dullest bits of data sound interesting. Having worked on over 200 presentations with companies such as Oracle; Dentsu; and Nike, Eugene Cheng, co-founder of HighSpark, is a self-confessed presentation obsessive. Singapore-based HighSpark helps corporate leaders in their visual presentations by offering presentation design, consulting, and training services.

Having worked with the best and the worst in the region, he shares three things Southeast Asian entrepreneurs struggle with when communicating their ideas and stories, and how to overcome them.

 

Mistake 1: Becoming overly technical

Sometimes, speakers can get so wrapped up in delivering their presentations that they forget about the needs of their audience. “We’ve had numerous clients that were both brilliant orators and technical experts. Their biggest issue was that it was extremely difficult to connect with the average layperson in the audience,” Cheng says.

He recalls one instance where a client began writing technical formulae on paper while explaining to him what he wanted to communicate in his TEDx presentation. The cognitive bias, known as the ‘curse of knowledge’, is when intelligent executives have the unconscious assumption that others have the necessary background information to comprehend any grandiose theories they might share.

Similarly to how marketers build customer personas and optimize content to reach them, presenters should start developing their presentations by first thinking of who they are speaking to. Just showing up and ‘winging it’ is not an option.

It is important to spend some time talking to some of your audience members and learning to speak on their level. Rather than use verbose vocabulary, seek to communicate with clear, simple language that even a child can understand.

 

Mistake 2: Not identifying a problem in your narrative

Recurring presentations can be dull because there’s no groundbreaking update to wow an audience. But how do some presenters manage to keep things interesting speech after speech? The solution is to introduce a problem or conflict to your presentation narrative.

Cheng says that presentations can be modeled off the structure of films. Ever wondered why we’re captivated by cinematic blockbusters like Star Wars?

“Films and stories follow a formulaic structure known as the ‘monomyth’ which has gone through many iterations since its conception. The most recent iteration is known as the ‘Story Circle’ by Dan Harmon, which has been quoted as the inspiration for the Rick and Morty series.”

In any kind of riveting story or presentations, conflict always exists. In storytelling and film, this is known as the ‘rising action’ effect. Without any obstacle or conflict, there is no compelling reason for your audiences to pay attention to you.

For example, in Elon Musk’s Powerwall presentation, he began by sharing the negative effects of pollution via energy consumption on Earth before ever talking about Tesla’s new battery. If he did not properly expound on the existing issues, his audience would not adequately appreciate the solution.

In your next presentation, try highlighting areas for improvement or identify action plans to move forward based on data gathered since the last presentation. This way, your presentation is geared towards driving action based on existing problems rather than passively delivering information.

 

Mistake 3: Developing the wrong kind of presentation for the setting

Cheng believes that we have been conditioned by the media and numerous other experts in presentation courses that the gold standard of presenting is a TED or Steve Jobs-style presentation. He says, however, that if you are in a board-room meeting, emulating a TED presentation is a surefire way to receiving a mouthful from your superior.

He says that he has had clients try to use presentations prepared for on-stage keynote speeches in the boardroom with lacklustre results.


The key thing to note is that different settings demand for different presentation formats and not every presentation can be a TED-style presentation. For example: Internal meeting and reviews are usually intended to align goals amongst stakeholders and propose areas for further improvements. Details are key in this situation.

Over the course of creating more than 200 presentations, Cheng has found that there are five main types of presentations that constantly occur: Internal reviews, investor pitches, sales decks, marketing decks and keynote speeches — not just one ‘perfect’ format of presenting.

In many companies, especially larger firms, gathering stakeholders can be a challenge, and not everyone may be able to turn up for the meeting. What happens after is that your presentation deck gets disseminated to everyone. If your presentation design can’t stand alone in this case, your colleagues will be in for a rude surprise after missing the meeting.

Before you develop your next presentation, consider your audience, whether your presentation will be read on its own, and also the setting to ensure that you use the right presentation format to achieve your objectives. Don’t just hunt for creative presentation ideas without a strategy.

You might feel like you work in a boring industry or department, but that doesn’t mean you can’t engage your audience. Avoid these three common mistakes – you'll find you can present with confidence and a clear sense of purpose.

 

Chris Chong is the founder of Singapore-based PR firm for start-ups SumoStory