This is the second in a series of blogs which examines the truth behind a number of presentation myths. Part 1 is here.
In this article I examine:
“People remember more if they see it as well as hear it”
“What you have to say is so interesting it is worth over running for”
“If you don’t like looking people in the eye, look over their heads or at a point on the back wall”
“You need an ice breaker like a joke at the start of a presentation”
“If your mouth is dry, drink some water”
1. “People remember more if they see it as well as hear it”
While this is basically true, it depends on what it is people are seeing while they hear your words. Far too often people display text heavy slides in the belief that putting the text on the slide will help their audience remember what it is they have said. It won’t!
Displaying a slide full of text acts as a distraction to your presentation. Your audience will stop listening to you while they read your text. If you then say the same thing as the text on the slide, you will be accused of reading the slides, which is a serious faux pas and leads to the dreaded “death by PowerPoint”.
Alternatively if you say something different from what is displayed on your slide you will just confuse your audience.
In my humble opinion, bullet points should be banned from presentations. If you are not convinced please read the article “Ban the Bullets“.
That said, the visual aspects of your presentation are very important, and in many cases will take precedence over the spoken word. To make people remember your presentation you may want to use some pictures and diagrams that conjure up strong mental images or even better get your audience to do something, as recommended by Confucius in his saying “I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand”
2. “What you have to say is so interesting it is worth over running for”
This particular myth is one I still have a problem with. I know I should always finish a presentation with in my allotted time, but knowing it and doing it are two different things.
For many people, like myself, time flies by when you are giving a presentation. You find that you know more about your subject than you thought you did, you come up with new analogies and descriptions to clarify the points you are making and all of a sudden you are at the end of your allotted time but with lots more still to say.
Your audience show no signs of boredom, but should you go on or should you shut up and sit down? In every single case the answer has to be to shut up. It doesn’t matter how well you think your presentation is going or how important the points you have yet to make are, there can be no good reason for over running.
In the extreme example, when you are one of the later speakers in a series of presentations, and the speakers before you have overrun, meaning you are late starting your presentation, my advice would be to cut your presentation short so that you still finish on the original schedule. Although you get to say less, you will be the hero of the event. Both the audience and the event organizers will appreciate your concise delivery and you will be invited back another time.
3. “If you don’t like looking people in the eye, look over their heads or at a point on the back wall”
Eye contact is very important when you are giving a presentation but for many novice presenters establishing eye contact with your audience can be daunting. The advice that is often given is to give the presentation looking at a point on the back wall, or looking at the tops of people’s heads rather than into their eyes. I think this is terrible advice. People can tell that you are not looking at them. You need to look your audience in there eyes as you give the presentation. Start by looking at the people who are giving nice “facial echoes”. The ones that are smiling back and clearly enjoying what you are saying. Then look at the others, a different person for each phrase or sentence.
4. “You need an ice breaker like a joke at the start of a presentation”
“What makes a good ice-breaker?” is a question which is often posed on on-line forums. In my view jokes and ice-breakers are the worst ways to start a business presentation. Most business audiences are not expecting a joke and are not in the right mood to laugh at it, so it will often fall flat.
The best ways to open a presentation are discussed here.
5. “If your mouth is dry, drink some water”
Having a dry mouth is one of the normal signs of nervous tension, but if you drink the water, you will find that your mouth tends to get dryer and then you will want to drink more and more. You are better to leave it to your body’s natural reaction to a dry mouth, which is to generate more saliva than to wash any saliva that is there, by drinking the water.
Sucking a mint before your presentation will help generate the saliva you need to avoid a dry mouth, and is far more effective than drinking the water. Alternatively, you can gently bite the inside of your cheeks, which will also make you salivate.
It is of course wise to have a drink to hand in case you start coughing or to act as a temporary diversion while you gather your thoughts to answer a question.
So there go another few presentation myths. In the next article in the series I will look at:
“My slides help me to remember what I am supposed to say”
“Communication is 55% visual, 38% vocal and only 7% the words that you use”
“Adding a picture or clip art to you slides makes then better ”
“There is an optimum number of slides for a presentation”
“Our presentations are very technical so you won’t be able to teach us anything about how to give them”
If you have any favourite myths about giving a presentation, please let me know by adding a comment below.
All the Best