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McLEOD: Why most presentations are terrible, and how not to be awful

I used to have a preacher who was so bad that the only way I could get through his sermons was to rewrite them in my head.

My family was less than thrilled when I insisted on giving them my revised version of the sermon over lunch every Sunday, but an ineffective speaker, especially when he's my preacher, makes me nuts.

He had a captive audience every Sunday, several hundred people who were looking to him for guidance, and Sunday after Sunday he blew it. His sermons were boring, disorganized and poorly delivered.

I may be doomed to Hades for critiquing the preacher, but for me, a bad presentation is a sin.

But as they say: hate the sin, love the sinner. So, with love, here are three main reasons most presentations are terrible and how to fix them.

-- Lack of preparation

You know those speakers whose words just seem to flow like it's all off the cuff?

They're not naturally wonderful. The reason great speakers seem so comfortable is because they've spent hours, days and sometimes even months practicing. People often claim that too much practice makes you memorized and scripted. But that's not true.

There are three levels of practice.

No prep -- This results in rambling and disorganization, you either use too many words or not enough, and they are rarely in a logical order.

Average prep -- You memorize your speech or bullet points so you can deliver the right words.

Uber prep -- You become so comfortable with the words, they flow naturally and you can focus on making an emotional connection with the audience. Two of the best performances of this political season were Bill Clinton's convention speech and Mitt Romney's first debate performance. Both men openly acknowledged that they spent countless hours practicing their content, again and again and again. That's why they both seemed so natural onstage.

-- Too many details

I was coaching a client for a presentation at a big international conference where he was introducing his organization to their sister company executives. His first instinct was to create a PowerPoint with the company history, product details and financial information.

While this would have been accurate, it wouldn't have been memorable. Instead, we focused on three key areas: his company's stability, their key differentiators, and their eagerness to go the extra mile for their customers, and we crafted a story for each bullet.

People are tempted to want to share everything, but the question you need to ask is: Does this sentence serve my central purpose (yes, it is that micro; you need to look at every sentence). Facts and details are good, but too many of them causes people to tune out.

-- Presenter-focused vs. audience-focused

It's not about sharing what you want to say, it's about giving the audience what they need to hear. Personal stories work, but only if they're in service of helping the audience.

In the case of my boring preacher, he talked endlessly about how we should all be doing social justice work with our "free time." The problem was, he was a guy with no kids at home and two days off a week, and he was speaking to working parents who put in 60-hour work weeks and were looking for guidance to keep themselves sane so they could wake up and do it again on Monday morning.

Bad presentations may be a sin, but if you use these tips, you'll avoid temptation.

Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," which the Washington Post named as a "Top Five Book for Leaders."