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7 Deadly Sins of Presenting

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This guest post by Holly St. John Peck was reprinted with permission from the book Roadmap to Success, which includes Holly’s chapter “Speaking Simplified,” e-published now on with the hard copy to be published in June 2014.

Some of the smartest business people simply cannot communicate effectively in front of a group. In a previous post, Holly St. John Peck reassured us that you can be both a smart business person and a dynamic speaker, as long as you avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Presenting.

To review, the first three sins were:

  1. Being presenter-centered

  2. Poor content creation and visual aid design

  3. Being afraid of silence

4. Using nervous, non-matching hand gestures. We call it “yelling with your hands.” When people are nervous, and unrehearsed, they tend to wave their hands aimlessly while they talk.

It’s like getting an e-mail in all capital letters—it feels like you’re being yelled at! Similarly, that’s what audiences feel like when presenters wave their hands around aimlessly and without meaning.

Instead, plan several matching hand gestures for key points in your presentation, and rehearse using those gestures so it comes out naturally “in the moment” of the live presentation.

5. Not using your power position in the room. Moving around nervously in front of an audience or not moving at all creates a perception of “nervous speaker.” By doing either extreme, our body gives us away that we’re nervous.

In not moving, we look like a “bobble head”—one of those dolls that are standing still but the head can move around. By pacing, we look like a caged lion that just wants out of there! It’s just not very dynamic and it certainly doesn’t hold the audience’s attention.

A better approach is to stand still during your presentation opening and closing so all eyes are on you, then move to each side of the room to connect with audience members. Once you arrive in front of each table, you should stand there long enough to make extended eye contact with various people, completing a whole thought or sentence on each person.

6. Talking with no feeling. A communication study by UCLA professor and author Dr. Albert Mehrabian showed that if there is any incongruence in your message delivery, 38 percent of our message meaning is received by the audience through our vocal delivery. Only 7 percent is verbal—the actual words used! Yet how much time do we typically spend on the words in crafting our presentation?

If you sound monotone and unexcited about your topic, the audience will be uninterested. To be effective, we need to incorporate vocal variety. You can do this by emphasizing key words and using inflection (high and low), similar to telling an interesting story to a child. Your voice needs to be animated. It’s also important to raise your vocal projection to two levels louder than normal, which will give you an air of confidence and power

7. Trying to sound smart. Using big words, technical jargon, or acronyms your audience may not understand is problematic. In fact there is a book called Why Business People Speak Like Idiots (Chelsea Hardaway, Jon Warshawsky, February 2005) and it’s truly about this phenomena of using corporate buzz words or phrase like, “paradigm shifting,” “reach out,” “win-win solution,” and “collaborate.” These words have lost their meaning because they’ve been overused in business.

What we ask presenters to do is to drop the jargon, the buzz-words, and any big words. Big words don’t make you sound smarter, they just make the audience feel stupid. So one of the things we want to do is keep our language simple. Finally, be careful in using acronyms; make sure your audience knows them before you throw them around in your speech.

If you avoid the 7 Deadly Sins, and remember to develop and deliver persuasive presentations, not just information updates, you will be seen as a dynamic speaker and your audience will give you the business results you’re after!

Have you even been tempted to sound smart when presenting? Are you aware of your physical position and how you move around the room? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.



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