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 Amazon.com with the hard copy to be published in June 2014.
You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across they get you nowhere.
There are a lot of smart business people in the world but often they’re just not able to communicate the right message at the right time to the right audience in order to effect change.
Presentations in business today have become “death by PowerPoint” meetings, with presenters telling and showing everything they know on their slideshow. Audiences become bored and uninterested in their message.
Presenters and speakers need to remember that their task is speaking to an audience for several key reasons:
To answer their questions
To inform them of a problem and recommend a solution
To persuade with benefits and evidence to move them to action
To entertain them
Presentations should never be seen as a way to simply inform about a status or project update. Every opportunity to speak to people is one that can be used to influence them to think, feel, or do something differently or better.
For example, do you need them to sign off on a project or sign on the dotted line for a sale? That’s an action. Or do you want them to trust your department is doing the right thing in a cross departmental initiative? That’s a feeling, trust. Or do you just need them to understand your department’s role and how you can support them? That’s knowledge and understanding—a new thought.
So every presenter’s goal should be to attain one of these end results: new thinking, a changed or affirmed feeling, or an action taken.
To really be seen as a dynamic speaker, and to reach your audience and move them to action, avoid the 7 Deadly Sins of Presenting. We’ll cover the first three sins in today’s post, and the remaining four in a follow-up post.
7 Deadly Sins of Presenting – Sins 1-3
1. Being presenter-centered. This means you are not considering the needs of the audience. It creates speaker nervousness, which often results in an ineffective presentation. It comes into play when you’re planning your content at the very beginning, and continues through the delivery in front of an audience. This first sin is the culprit to committing every sin listed below.
2. Poor content creation and visual aid design. Not creating targeted, audience-centered content with an attention-getting opening and an oriented closing can prevent an audience from being persuaded to think, feel, or do something differently.
If content is not well designed, the tendency will be to put way too much information on slides. To prevent this one, prepare better and answer the “so what?” question for each key point and slide. “What is the true meaning of this point?” and “How does it apply to my audience?” Then, revise the slide to answer that question for them.
Bad visuals also result in presenters reading straight from their slides due to much content and little practice, which then leads to disengaging eye contact with the audience. It’s also patronizing to read aloud to an audience and makes them feel stupid.
To eliminate this practice, presenters must know their content first, design their slides second, and use fewer words and more pictures. While delivering their message, they should pause when looking at their slide before speaking to their audience.
3. Being afraid of silence. Instead of pausing, most use fillers words like um, ah, and like, you know, so, and then so—any word that’s being used to prevent silence. We hate silence as speakers; it makes us uncomfortable (presenter-centered). But what we really need to worry about is what is good for the audience.
Pausing is very audience-centered; it helps them absorb what you just said and allows them to think, “How does this apply to me?” and “What do I do about it?” It allows them to play catch up in their brain. This is important for technical or complex presentations and presentations done by speakers who have a foreign accent. In this case, pausing allows for the audience member to translate in their minds and quickly attach meaning to what was just said.
Nervous speakers speak too fast, with few pauses, and sound unprepared and lack credibility. The pausing is the anecdote to filling with a non-word, and it makes a speaker sound confident and credible. The great jazz musician, Wynton Marsalis once said, “The power of my music is in the silence between the notes.”
We’ll continue with the 7 Deadly Sins of Presenting in a follow-up post.
In the meantime, have you already recognized any of these sins, in yourself or in recent presentations you’ve watched? Please add your comment below, or share with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook or email.