The Three WORST Pieces of Advice Given Presenters

And how best to ignore them

Ever hear the one about picturing your audience naked to overcome your fear of presenting to them? How about the one about practicing in front of a mirror? Anyone who has ever tried either of those well-meaning tropes knows how futile they are. Deluding ourselves that we can calm fears by laughing at our audience, or that we can convince them of anything by faking authenticity, is worse than a waste of time.  It prevents us from using our greatest power as presenters: our true selves.

Nothing is quite as powerful as watching and listening to someone who is passionate about what they know and knows how to share it with an audience they know how to connect with. So what other well-meaning advice can we ignore as we build those powerful presentation skills? Try ignoring these “how to’s” and substituting some genuine skill builders.

Worst Advice:

Memorize Your Presentation
Now this one sounds reasonable enough on the surface. After all, much of our fear about presenting is wrapped up in our fear of looking foolish in front of others. Some of that comes from our fear of drawing a blank when all eyes are on us. If we memorize our presentation, that won’t happen, right? Perhaps, but what will certainly happen is that we’ll be taken out of “the moment” as we put all of our energy and attention on recalling the least significant portion of our presentation: the literal words. Suddenly, we’re not focused on the immediate reaction we’re getting from the audience or on making sure we’re connecting with them. We’re focusing instead on making sure the words keep coming. That sets the bar too low: surviving the presentation until the end isn’t your goal. CONNECTING to your audience is.

Instead: Know Your Presentation
Focus on the essence of what you’re presenting: namely your key messages. This is what’s most important for your audience to understand. If the worst happens and all of your materials and notes disappeared, how would you summarize what you came to say?  Put those bigger ideas up front and build your presentation around them. Your audience won’t likely remember all of the supporting details, but they should remember your key points. Worry less about repeating the exact words you intended and more about making sure you’re connecting. If you see heads nodding, react. If you see puzzled looks, don’t just plow through. Stop and make sure you’re not rushing ahead of your audience just to fill space. Slow yourself down and make sure you really see your audience and gauge their reactions. Remember, no one knows what you were supposed to say, so don’t let a pause or different phrasing than you’d planned throw you.


Use a Lot of Bullets

For some reason, lots of presenters think they can take a long, dry presentation and suddenly make it come alive if they can just add enough bullets to the screen. Ever sit through one of those presentations where the bullets don’t in any way indicate an abbreviated point? Heck, they may not even indicate a point! Here’s the thing: TEXT ON A SLIDE IS NOT A VISUAL AID. There is nothing about text that makes it more understandable, or illustrative, than the spoken word, by itself.

Instead: Put the Visual Back in Visual Aid
Are there actual visuals that would help illustrate your points? Can you bring in relevant charts, graphs, photos, illustrations to help your audience “see” your points? If you must use bullets, greatly reduce them and the words you use. Your audience didn’t come to read and they didn’t come to listen to YOU read to them. (Hint: if you use punctuation in your bulleted information, you’re using too many words.)


More is Better

Ever sit through a presentation that’s a product of many hands? More detail, more slides, with the presenter intoning something like…”..and here you can see again..…“ or “this is just yet another example of…” Yes, you want to prove your key points. Data does help you do that. However, information overload may quickly confuse your audience and actually mask your key points.

Instead: Pointed is Powerful
Limit your backup points and secondary data to your “best stuff.” Ask yourself whether any given slide is necessary, why, and what might instead be moved to handout material. Remember, this is ORAL presentation. That means it’s necessary for presenters to pay attention to higher messages, with just enough information to lend strong support. Remember, you are the presentation, so stay center stage.

Aileen Pincus is a communications consultant and President of the Pincus Group, Executive Communications Training. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

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Powering Up Your Infographics

Visuals can play a crucial part in your presentation. Graphics add power to power point and value to your handouts. Graphics can help you reach and move an audience, by giving your data more impact and clearer meaning. As with any tool, however, it’s important to know the basics so you can use it most effectively. Nayomi Chibana, a journalist and writer for Visme’s Visual Learning Center, has written a handy basic guide in using graphics to their fullest advantage. Ms. Chibana has offered to share her How To with TPG readers.

Enjoy this free e-guide to powering up your INFOGRAPHICS!

Presentations and Emotional Intelligence: Powering up your presentation

Any good presenter knows the importance of keeping the audience the focal point of the presentation. To be successful, a presenter has to understand not only his or her own subject, but what the audience already knows about it, what they are hoping to learn, and even possible misconceptions  that might stand in the way of their understanding or reaching common ground. It isn’t enough to just keep the audience in mind as you gather your materials and decide on content. To really move and motivate an audience with a presentation, you’ll need to be aware of how the audience is responding to you in the moment.

Emotional intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s self empathetically and appropriately; and to be able to use emotional information to guide behavior. How then is emotional intelligence used to strengthen presentation skills?

Next time you get ready to present, think about how you and your audience are responding to each other and how you can make use of that information to enhance your performance and your results. Some guides to consider:

BUILD IN TIME TO READ YOUR AUDIENCE: This sounds easier than it is. Many presenters think mostly (if not exclusively) about their own performance during a presentation. They understandably want that presentation to go smoothly and without mishap, so are focused on remembering details of what they planned to say, as well as how to get from point to point without missing anything. Master presenters, however, know the test of a great presenter isn’t whether the delivery proceeded without hesitation or that everything you thought you might include was delivered. The emotionally intelligent presenter is aware of the audience’s reaction. Make it a point in every presentation to gauge audience reaction as often as you can. You can do this either by literally stopping occasionally and asking for feedback (“Does this make sense”?  “Everyone agree?” ) or you can simply build in pauses that allow you to gauge reaction yourself.

YOUR AUDIENCE IS COMMUNICATING WITH YOU IF YOU LISTEN:  Audience feedback is often subtle, which is why for many presenters, it’s easy to overlook. Many audiences won’t interrupt your presentation or offer you the kind of verbal feedback that lets you know how you’re being received. The emotionally intelligent presenter checks for non-verbal signs. Are they maintaining eye contact? Are expressions neutral? Interested? Is body language open? Or are they shifting constantly in their seats, avoiding eye contact and giving you other signs of disinterest or disagreement?

TALK BACK: The point of being aware of audience reaction is to react to it. If you sense you might be losing your audience, don’t ignore the signs. Stop and react. If you sense boredom or disinterest, don’t stick to your script. You might quicken your pace or even skip ahead to a different section of your presentation. (“Why don’t we move ahead to some action items.”)  If you sense disagreement, you might react in turn by testing the resistance. “I can see there’s some skepticism. Anyone want to offer some reaction?” That will give you a clue as to whether the resistance or reaction is shared by others or an isolated problem you identified and can quickly address.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of getting audience feedback is to increase your chances of successful communication. Don’t take any negative feedback you get personally, even if you disagree with it or think it unfair. You might even end the presentation portion early in order to devote more time to the q and a section of the presentation, to make sure you’re addressing your audience’s concerns. (I can guarantee that no one will complain about not enough slides, handouts, or data once you’ve gotten through the basics of the presentation.) Keep your additional materials on hand in case someone asks a specific question the additional data can help you explain, but let the audience guide you in when and how much to use.

Emotional Intelligence is now identified as a crucial leadership skill. Remember that displaying it, proving your ability to connect with others right in front of them, will do far more in proving your leadership ability than all the slides, charts and graphs you could possibly display.