Last week, my husband attended a conference. When he got home, we discussed the conference including what he learned, who he met, and he spoke about the presenters he saw. My husband described an exciting up-and-coming keynote speaker that kicked off the conference, numerous amateur presenters that did well in breakout sessions and roundtable formats, and a very experienced keynote speaker that left much to be desired. My husband said he sat near the front of the stage and could see that most of the audience was engaged for the first 15 minutes, then nearly all of them were lost. Afterward, many conference attendees stated their disappointment including that the presentation started well, then got boring, but the speaker was so “polished”. So how did this experienced presenter lose the audience?
I call it “Spiderwebbing”.
In short, the presenter bounced around between topics and subtopics, confusing his audience. Instead of leading the audience down a smooth path (his message, subtopics, and support material), he ping-ponged back and forth in an illogical order. This regularly happens with experienced keynote presenters, aspiring thought leaders, and teams doing bid presentations.
Most audience members (and presentation coaches) can’t put their finger on the problem because they see a presenter with good mechanics, the physical aspect of presenting, including eye contact, vocal inflection & projection, hand gestures, and stage presence. In my husband’s example, he said the keynote speaker was strong in those areas (actually too good making him less relatable). Other things audiences picks up on are the use of crutch words like umm, so, and you know. If the speaker doesn’t use crutch words, the audience can’t determine that the missing link is a lack of order. Presentations require some type of logical order including chronological, spatial, and process. Without an order, it is easy to lose an audience, even if the speaker simplifies their message to the audience’s knowledge level.
Why does Spiderwebbing happen?
For experienced presenters like keynotes that make a living presenting, they tend to create spiderwebs over time. Spiderwebs can happen in two variations – they blend multiple presentations into one mutant presentation unsuccessfully or have altered one core presentation too many times and it now lacks focus. [In my husband’s example, he noted at least 3 different slide designs which proved my theory right the speaker merged multiple presentations.]
For aspiring thought leaders and keynotes, they tend to try too hard to capture everyone, force engagement, and add too much to the presentation to appease every type of audience on every subject. All this extra information jammed in causes gaps in the sequence and begins to build the spiderweb.
For team presentations, the spiderweb happens when teams create and practice their presentation separately. In the end, the audience gets multiple individual presentations and if they’re looking for a cohesive team, they won’t pick the team with a spiderweb presentation
How to Fix a Spiderweb Presentation?
You have to create a logical order to the presentation to prevent a confusing spiderweb. The only way to correct the presentation is to take a step back. Start by outlining the current presentation and remove any unnecessary information that does not support the presentation’s thesis. Reorder the content into one of the orders I mentioned above (chronological, spatial, or process).
Then, walk through the reorganized presentation to make sure it flows. If you have to force a transition, you probably need to tweak it more.
Also, practice your presentation in front of a colleague to get a fresh viewpoint.
How to Prevent Losing the Audience With a Spiderwebbed Presentation?
Prepare properly – develop your thesis and topics, create an outline, walk through your presentation, and practice until you’re comfortable with it. Don’t rely on a script because it will add more pressure to you and if you miss a sentence, it can cause you to skip entire sections causing you to lose the audience accidentally. (For more information, read my blog post, Proper Presentation Preparation with a Presentation Checklist.)
How Speak Simple Can Help You
Win more work, increasing your billing rate, and prospects coming to you are all results of being an excellent presenter. Erica Olson created Speak Simple to help technical professionals to become comfortable presenting and excel at each presentation, whether a bid presentation or an educational, content marketing presentation. Learn more about Speak Simple’s flagship program is SpeakU, a self-guided presentation training program.