speaking infront

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5 really unhelpful things we believe about presentations

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves around delivering presentations and public speaking. The more pressure we put on ourselves, the more uncomfortable we feel.
In my public speaking workshops I regularly come across five really common beliefs about presentations that really don't help. And some rethinks are in order.

  1. I've got to know everything about a subject before I can present
    If you had to know everything then every presentation would take 17 years to prepare (just a guess - not scientifically proven). That's plainly ridiculous! And to be honest there is far too much information in the world anyway. 
    So what do you do?
    Well, I'd love you to see presentations as your contribution to the subject. This is your particular take, your own angle rather than the whole encyclopaedic explanation.
    Your job  is to digest the information in a way that the audience gets it rather than  overwhelming your audience.
    You might have a massive report to present on. You could frame it it like this: “ It's really important for us to concentrate on, is this bit of the report, it will have profound impact on our department…
    Or maybe you could see your presentation as starting the debate rather than being the complete answer. So you could do a quick presentation and then start a group discussion! So less material to handle, less to remember and better for your audience.
  2. I've got to tell everything I know about presentation in order to give my audience value
    You open your laptop, fire up PowerPoint and the first question you ask yourself “What do I know about this subject?”. And it all goes on your slides. Your 120 slides!
    What you have forgotten is what it's like to be in your audience receiving all that information. It's tough to stay awake. 
    Presenters seem to forget about audiences. Presenters give too much information. If you say 10 things in your presentation you're probably not saying anything at all. They won't remember it. 
    So the radical re-think question is “What is the ONE thing you want the audience to take away or to act on?. That's right, just one thing.

    Part of your job is to rebuild your one idea in their brains. In order to do that you need to work out why they should be interested in your idea and speak to their interests.
  3. If I pause, they will think that I’ve dried up and/or about to collapse
    Pauses seem to be a real stumbling block for presenters. Nervous presenters think if they deliver their presentation really fast then they will get off really quickly and perhaps hopefully no one might notice them. Pauses for them are full of panic. But I'd love you to do a rethink about this.
    The most powerful part of the presentation is the audience thinking process.
    They need to be able to think about what you're saying. If you give them a machine gun delivery there are no gaps for them to think.

    Audiences need pauses.

    And you can see pauses as thinking time for you.

    So I'd love you to move from panic pauses to Jacuzzi pauses, pauses where you can relax and think. (I know this will take practice but good pauses are about putting your audiences needs first)
  4. I can't make a mistake
    The flipside of I can't make a mistake is I've got to be perfect. Anxiety around public speaking is full of excessive pressures on ourselves. This combination one is a biggie!

    Organisations that have really good customer service know that they are going to make mistakes so what they do is get better at recovering from mistakes. They will treat you really well, they will apologise and remedy the situation quickly and maybe even give you something extra.

    What public speakers need to do is to get better at making mistakes and more especially recovering from mistakes. This probably means being fully present and dealing with what's happening in the room. So when Steve Jobs’ presentation clicker failed during an apple presentation, he came up with a story about the beginning of Apple whilst someone got a new clicker for him. 

    The research shows that if an organisation handles a mistake well, then the consumer often has more trust in that organisation afterwards. I think it's the same for public speakers. The audience will relax if you take mistakes in your stride. Have the courage to be imperfect. It certainly helps me!
  5. I won't be able to answer people's questions (see bonus tip below as well)
    Maybe you won't.
    I was in the audience for a lecture by Daniel Pink in Bristol awhile back. Some very clever person (i’m being polite) asked a very clever question. He paused, he thought and his reply “mmmm, I haven't done the research on that. Has anyone else here done the research on that?"

    He look around and waited.

    No response

    “We don't know, none of us knows. Next question please”.

    He didn’t fluster or bullsh*t. He wasn’t rude to the questioner.

    It’s okay not to know, in fact it's far better to be honest. You can always add "Normally I would know but I've got my stage fright head on. Talk to me at break"

    I found another elegant addition to this approach in Simon Raybould’s blog. He gave a formula for answering a question you don’t know:
    a. I don’t know, but it’s a good point
    b. so I’ll find out
    c. and if you give me your email address I’ll get back to you about it
    d. by lunchtime on Thursday
  6. Bonus tip about questions is one that I use all the time.
    When I ask an audience “Have you got any questions?”, quite often no one says anything. So I wait. Audiences are slow to do most things. I'm not blaming them, its just what audiences are like.
    And then I say "normally at this stage I get asked this question” I have a couple of questions up my sleeve and that gets things rolling. It also gives the audience time to think about questions.

    It's very simple, it's very useful.


My two day  re-thinking presentations course is coming up in early November. I only run two of these a year and I really enjoy doing it. If you want to re-think your presentations have a look at the course here. This course is not for people who are very scared of public speaking (like my normal courses). It's aimed at people who want to connect better with their audiences