We’ve all seen horrible presentations. Most of us have probably given a few in our day. But in the professional world, public speaking is an unavoidable fact of life. Whether you love or loathe giving presentations, people on both sides of the coin can be really, really bad at it.
In reminiscing on the truly awful presentations I’ve seen, I came up with 4 basic pitfalls that can doom any public speaker:
#1. NOT BEING PREPARED.
I’ve listed this as the first issue to tackle, because it leads directly to the other three. Luckily, this is also one of the easiest pitfalls to correct – because much of it doesn’t actually involve any public speaking. In fact, you can prepare for much of your presentation by yourself in your underwear if you want to.
So, how can one prepare for a presentation?
- Know what you’re talking about. If you were listening to a presentation on this topic, what would your top three questions be? Does your presentation answer these questions? If not, are you prepared to answer them in a Q&A? We should think of ourselves as teachers when we present. Think of the old adage, “If you can’t teach an idea, then you don’t really know it yourself.” Have you made yourself an expert?
- Practice. Then practice some more. If it’s a solo presentation, practice it in the shower. Talk through it on your drive to work. If you’ve got nice friends, make them sit through a run-through. If it’s a team presentation, hold a dress rehearsal. See how each speaker will transition and how the parts of the presentation play off of each other. It’s a safe bet to practice a presentation at least 3 times, either alone or in front of an audience, before delivering it.
- Take care of logistics. These are the little things that can stress you out 15 minutes before the presentation starts. Know how long your presentation should be, and time your run-through. Eliminate the stress of having to check your watch or wonder if you’re going over your time. Set up any technology ahead of time. Allow at least 15 minutes to get a PowerPoint set up; longer if you have video, multimedia, etc. Practice with the technology. And finally, have a backup plan in case the technology breaks. Know your presentation well enough that you don’t need a PowerPoint.
#2. OFFERING NOTHING OF VALUE.
I don’t mean you need to be a celebrity or genius to be a presenter. I am referring to valuable content. How many times have you been excited for a presentation, only to leave 10 minutes later feeling like it was a waste of time? Content should be fresh and innovative, so that the audience walks away saying “I learned XYZ today.” Speakers can be as prepared and charismatic as they come, but it won’t make much difference if the content isn’t up to snuff.
So, how can one make sure their content has something to offer?
- Gauge your audience. Know if they’re beginners or experts in what you’re talking about, and tailor the presentation to meet their needs. If your audience is smarter than you, learn how to be a great facilitator. Let them do the teaching for you by asking great questions. We see this often in our client pitch presentations – at that stage of the game, there’s no way for us to know more about our clients’ issues than they do. We can be great presenters by taking the time to understand our audience better, so we know best how to meet their needs.
- Offer actionable tips. Make the audience feel like they’re learning something they can put into action immediately after the presentation. Even if it’s something small, like “practice a presentation 3 times before you give it.” (See what I did there?). Make sure everyone walks away with a to-do.
- Live up to your hype. You don’t have to be a celebrity – but think about why you were asked to give this presentation in the first place. What is it about you that’s unique, that they can’t learn from just any speaker? Is it your experience, or a personal story? Is it your humor, or your way with words? Give them something they can’t get anywhere else.
#3. APPEARING NERVOUS OR UNCOMFORTABLE.
The third pitfall is likely the most recognized & discussed. Fear of public speaking, or “glossophobia,” is one of the most commonly reported social fears. What makes us so afraid to speak in public?
The fact of the matter is that it’s normal to be nervous getting in front of a group. It’s not the most natural social interaction. But, there are some important things to remember so the nerves don’t affect your ability to give a great presentation.
- Don’t fear the audience. The audience wants you to succeed. One of the most uncomfortable things to do, at least for me personally, is to watch someone else be uncomfortable. I have to fight the urge to run up on stage and give them a hug. Even worse, it distracts me from what they’re actually saying. The audience is your support system, not your enemy. While we may think that audiences first and foremost attend presentations to pick out the flaws and inconsistencies in what we’re saying, the opposite is actually far truer. Audiences want you to do well. After all, who doesn’t want to hear someone give a great presentation?
- Take breaks. Alleviate yourself of some pressure by building in interactions with your audience. Show videos. Ask questions. Tell a joke that will get a few seconds of laughter. Even short breaks during a presentation give you some time to re-collect your thoughts, breathe & focus.
- Move in slow motion. Well, it will feel that way at least. When we’re nervous, our first reaction is to want to get through the presentation as quickly as possible. This leads to what’s commonly known as ‘the jitters.’ People have all kinds of tips to stop the jitters – from where to place your hands, to where you should stand & whether you should walk around, to how often you should make eye contact. Personally, these details are too hard for me to remember when I’m nervous, so I just take a deep breath and make myself move and talk slower than feels natural at the time. Chances are, this will get you at least somewhat close to a normal, calm pace.
#4. FAILING TO COMMUNICATE CLEARLY.
The last pitfall speaks to the basic tenets of what we do at Adfero, as communicators. Once we prepare our content, make sure it’s valuable content and steady our nerves to deliver the content… we still must make it digestible for the audience.
How can one make sure their presentation isn’t overwhelming their audience?
- Stick to the main points. Know the basic principles you want your audience to walk away with, and keep bringing everything back to that place. Don’t necessarily be afraid of details, but make sure that the details aren’t distracting from the meat of the presentation.
- Make it short & sweet. The average adult attention span is about 15-20 minutes. Don’t stretch a presentation just for the sake of stretching it. If your presentation needs to be longer than 20 minutes, build in mind breaks at those intervals to re-focus the audience’s attention. This break can be a video clip, an interactive question or a clarifying visual.
- Use the right visuals. Never underestimate the power of visuals. It’s been said time and time again, but it can’t be said enough – bad PowerPoint slides can ruin a presentation. The main visual of your presentation is you. Don’t overload a PowerPoint with bullets and clip art. Keep it simple and make the audience pay attention to your words. Re-iterate your main points visually to make them stick in your audience’s mind. Sometimes just one powerful image can be enough to make your point.
In conclusion, in the most basic terms, there are 4 ways to make a presentation great.
- Offer valuable content.
- Be confident.
- Keep it simple.
Good luck out there!
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