Presentations are like sex

I think this joke belongs to Goldie Hawn: “My doctor sex is bad for one… but for two, it’s great!”

3D render of meeting room with projection screen and conference table

The dreaded empty room!

Let’s fact it, presentations are a bit like that… they can be done alone, but there’s not much point. Presentations are about changing people and that’s much easier done if they’re there in the room with you. If they don’t see and hear your presentation it’s a bit like winking in the dark – you know you’ve done it, but no one else does.

So how can you help those people who you’d wanted to be at your presentation (hey, they’re the movers an shakers you wanted to impress!) but who didn’t show?

First things first, are you sure you want to try?

Let’s fact it, if they didn’t turn up, by definition it means you weren’t as important to them as something else. That means that whatever you do, you’re going to be pushing against some resistance. Unless they’ve got in contact to explain that something urgent and important came up, such as a zombie apocalypse, you may just want to take the hint.

At the very least you need to consider if it’s worth letting this one go and thinking of it as a tactical loss – but if you try hard to change things and you fail (more likely as they weren’t there at the time!) you undermine yourself and your future ideas. I’m not saying you should always walk away, but I am saying you should consider whether this is a fight worth fighting, given that you’re starting in a poor initial position.

Is there a recording?

I’m not a fan of recording videos but it’s an obvious question to ask.

What about if they ask for your slides?

Well, in truth, I’d tend to fight shy of this one “Yeah, sorry I couldn’t make it, I got held up in another meeting – just send your slides over and I’ll go through them”. Errrr no… If your slides work in that context, they were bad slides for your live audience. Shoot yourself – if your audience didn’t do it for you at the time.

So is there a reasonable solution?

I’ve only ever come across one thing that works in this situation – getting face to face.

If they ask for your slides, think about if you can turn up with them loaded on a laptop and then do the presentation. It’s hard for someone to say “No” if you’ve gone to all that trouble and you’re actually there.

An alternative – that you might be able to combine with that idea – is to have really, really good slides. That means they’ll be interesting but won’t tell anyone anything (yes, that’s an over-generalisation but you know what I mean). If they’re interested enough they may ask you to talk them through – but if not, offer. Send them over by email and then wait a while before email to say something like “I know the slide didn’t make sense and I’m over your way this afternoon – should I pop in to talk you through them for ten minutes?

My best idea?

If you can’t get face-to-face the next best idea is to add an audio narration to the slides. That way, as people play through the slides they hear you talking. It misses your personality and body-language and all the visual clues of your personal delivery but at least it has more information.

What’s more, the simple fact that you’ve put in the effort to do this can be impressive.

PowerPoint and Keynote both contain simple tools for doing this and you’ve then got two options. Either you can send someone the PowerPoint or Keynote file, or you can export things to a movie and send that. The latter is a bit more convenient but a word of warning here – check it first. The export function isn’t perfect in either package (as you’d expect, it’s flakier in PowerPoint (in my experience)) so just take a little while to watch it through.

It doens’t need to be a Hollywood movie production, either, so don’t worry about editing unless you really screw up!  The point is to make the effort and have the impact, not to create a masterpiece!

And your best ideas?

Come alone now, don’t be shy….

Simon is one of the UK's most highly regarded presentation skills trainers and professional speakers in the fields of presenting, confidence and emotional resilience.

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