There are seven common reasons why an executive’s presentations and speeches fail:

1. Disregard for time
2. Unclear purpose
3. Inadequate preparation
4. Failure to capture attention
5. Pomposity
6. Boredom
7. False endings

1. Disregard for time

  • History has no record of anyone who gave a speech that was too short.
  • Speaking too long or taking more time than allotted, seems to be epidemic among high level business leaders.  Many executives completely destroy agendas.
  • The length of a presentation shouldn’t be a function of title or power. If you agreed to ten minutes, do it – especially if you’re a leader.
  • When you start and finish on time, your audience will respect you more and it will prove that you respect them.

2. Unclear purpose

  • The million dollar question of any presentation is: What’s the point?
  • Executives without clear objectives for their presentation usually achieve little.
  • Begin by asking yourself: “At the end of this presentation, what do I want listeners to think, feel and do?”  Good presenters speak to the head, the heart and the hands. Challenging people using lots of information with limited practical application is more frustrating than inspiring.
  • If someone else is writing your speech, it is critical that the speech writer have access to you and your ideas. Your speech will only be written as well as the input you provide.

3. Inadequate preparation

  • The best speakers are always prepared for what they say, even if their demeanor suggests otherwise.
  • You can tell when speakers haven’t prepared – they don’t say anything important. To make best use of your time and the audience’s time, think through and practice what you’ll say.  If you saw a Broadway show in which the actors hadn’t rehearsed, you would demand a refund.

4. Failure to capture attention

  • The scarcest resource in the world used to be time; today it is attention.  What you say and how you say it had better grab the audience’s attention immediately. In the theater, you’ll never see an actor warm-up on the audience. They warm-up backstage.
  • Ensure your remarks are relevant. Post moderns are less interested with the question “Is it true?” and more interested in the question “How does it affect me?” Never forget to prove that your message matters to the listener.

5. Pomposity

  • Impressing people is, for the most part, a head-game and it changes their opinions of us. Influencing people is a behavioral game: it changes what people do because of us.
  • A preoccupation with self is deadly. Self-absorbed speakers present to get their needs met, rather than meeting the needs of the audience. The audience instantly recognizes it.
  • One of the best kept secrets in speaking is: The audience wants you to do well.
  • You wouldn’t be speaking unless someone believed that you have credibility, and something significant to say.

6. Boredom

  • Presentation and perception go hand-in-hand. Entertaining in itself is not a worthwhile goal for an executive presenter, but it sure beats “boring”.
  • “Amusement” comes from two words meaning “not to ponder.” “Entertainment”, on the other hand, is engaging. The value of entertainment for a speaker is that it mentally engages listeners.
  • Telling a joke is risky. When it fails, nothing fails worse.

7. False endings

  • Here’s a simple rule to remember: A good ending happens only once.
  • Each false ending weakens the message that preceded it.
Mark Sanborn
About Mark Sanborn

Mark Sanborn, CSP, CPAE, is president of Sanborn & Associates, Inc., an idea studio dedicated to developing leaders in business and in life. Mark is an international bestselling author and noted expert on leadership, team building, customer service and change. Mark Sanborn graduated cum laude from The Ohio State University. In addition to his work as a business educator and author, Mark continues to be an active leadership practitioner. Most recently he served as the president of the National Speakers Association.

6 Responses to Why Do Presentations and Speeches Fail?
  1. Great points and clear elaboration. Thanks Mark!

    I hope you and your family are all doing well! Frank

  2. Mark,
    This is a fantastic list and i’ve printed it and placed it in my travel bag. I’ve been a professional speaker for 24 years and it’s all about the fundamentals. thanks Mark for spelling these out for all of us.

  3. Thank you very much for the seven-step guide to become a ‘Presenter extraordinaire’.

    Yes, the audience can get very disillusioned if a presenter tries to ‘wing it’.

    “Vertical takeoff” and ‘The Von Restorff Effect’ can ensure memorability of an effective presentation.

  4. Very helpful – easy read but chock filled with exceptional value! Thank you.

  5. Mark,

    Very practical ideas for improving presentations and speeches. However, these ideas translate beyond the “executive”; as a teacher and supervisor these tips will help me become a more effective communicator, as well. Thanks.

  6. Mark,

    Very precise and well explained.

    Thanks a lot.


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