Presentation Myths and Folklore – Part 3

July 7, 2015

Part 1 and Part 2 of this series are already up on my blog. In this article I tackle five more common presentation myths:

“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 your slides makes them 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”

1. “My slides help me to remember what I am supposed to say”

At first glance this may seem fairly innocuous, but I think is is one of the most common and damning mistakes a presenter can make. Relying on your slides to remind you what to talk about next perverts the whole process of giving a presentation.

When giving a presentation, the presenter should lead the presentation supported by their visual aids. When you rely on your slides you inevitably bring each slide up before you start talking about that sub-topic. This means the slides are now leading the presentation and the presenter has been relegated to the role of describing what the slides say.  The audience will read the slide quite quickly, and then, depending on the content of the slide, they will probably have a good idea of what it is your are about to say. This makes the presenter redundant.

In general, the best way to use slides is to start talking about a topic and then bring up the visual aid to support your statements.

2. “Communication is 55% visual, 38% vocal and only 7% the words that you use”

These statistics come from two separate studies carried out in the 1960’s by Alfred Merhabian, who was investigating how people communicate their emotions and attitudes. As with most statistics, these figures have been used to “prove” a wide range of different assertions about how you give a presentation and the relative importance of the three different aspects of a presentation.

What they don’t mean is that the words of your presentation are not important but as Mehrabian says, “when actions contradict words, people rely more heavily on actions to infer another’s feelings.”

For my part the important lesson to be learnt from these statistics is that all three aspects of your presentation, the words you say, how you say those words, and what the audience see while you say the words, have to be in-sync and giving a consistent message. If they are not consistent, the visual message will outweigh the aural message, which in turn outweighs the words spoken.

3. “Adding a picture or clip art to your slides makes them better ”

Over the last ten or fifteen years, there is a general trend in presentation skills training to promote the use of images and pictures in visual aids. Statements like “a picture is worth a 1,000 words” and “every picture tells a story” are fairly commonplace. This started with the introduction of clip art and has since expanded to include high resolution photographic images as computer processing power has increased to support the media.

While I won’t argue with the sentiment that a picture is worth 1,000 words, I do question whether adding a picture to the right of a set of bullet points is actually adding any value to a slide. A similar fate has tended to befall blogs. Often, at the start of a blog article is a picture which in some way relates to the content of the blog. The number of blogs about presentation myths, which I researched prior to writing this article, that have a picture of a unicorn  at the start is quite remarkable.

Of course an appropriate image is far better than a list of bullet points, which should be avoided at all costs.

 

4. “There is an optimum number of slides for a presentation”

Over the years I have heard an enormous variety in terms of the number of slides that should be used in a presentation. Anything from zero to one every 10 seconds.

The slides should be the last part of developing a presentation. Once you have worked out what you are going to say and how you are going to structure the presentation, then you can start thinking about the slides. The slides should be considered as an additional layer in your presentation which will help to make it an interesting and memorable experience for your audience. Your slides are not your presentation!

As such there is no right number.

5. “Our presentations are very technical so you won’t be able to teach us anything about how to give them”

This myth is something I come across when I am promoting my presentation skills training, but I thought it would be worth including. This view is often held by engineers, scientists and technology leaders. They believe that their technology is so specialized that anybody who has not worked in their industry, or in some cases in their company, would be unable view to help them improve their presentations.

I think this is akin to someone saying that only a sports coach who can run faster than Usain Bolt could coach Usain into running faster.

A good trainer or coach does not need a deep understanding of the topic of a presentation to help people create and deliver such a presentation. What they do need is a knowledge and understanding of both the art and science of presenting.

I wish you every success with your future presentations

All the Best

Graham

http://www.businespresentation.biz

 


Presentation Myths and Folklore – Part 2

June 10, 2015

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

Graham


Presentation Folklore and Myths – Part 1

May 19, 2015

Ask most people how to give a good presentation and the response is likely to include a few common myths that are often regurgitated. Rather than help you to give a great presentation these snippets of presentation folklore will often be a hindrance and not a help.

This is the first in a series of articles that will highlight the myths and point you in the right direction to make sure your next presentation is effective.

Common myths include:

“Tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them.”

“You shouldn’t wave you hands around when you talk”

“To reduce the nervous tension imagine that your audience is in the nude, or sitting on a toilet”

“Your slides make a good handout”

“Always ask if anyone has any questions at the end to make sure that they have understood you.”

 Unfortunately, while these things are said with the best of intentions, they are often open to being misunderstood.

  1. Tell them, tell them, tell them

The advice to “tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them” is one of the most misconstrued pieces of advice for a presentation. I’ve also heard this referred to as “Tell then how you are going to bore them. Bore them. Tell them how you bored them”.

You definitely do not want to tell people everything three times!

The first part of this statement “the tell them what you are going to tell them” does not mean put up an agenda slide, by doing so you run the risk of people thinking they know what you are going to say and assuming it will be a boring presentation which is not of interest to them.

A better approach is to start your presentation by making the audience want to listen. To engage your audience’s curiosity about the topic on which you are presenting. Not just tell them what you are going to talk about.

The last part of the statement, “tell them what you told them” means end with a summary. This is okay if you the objective of your presentation is purely information transfer but if you are trying to motivate or persuade your audience you need to end with a call to action, which tells them what you think they should do next.

The majority of presentations in business are not just about transferring information, they are about influencing, motivating and persuading people to do something. As such a summary of the information is a particularly weak ending. Your call to action is the reason you are giving your presentation so make that call to action the last thing you say before you sit down.

  1. Keep your hands still

When I was younger I went on a presentation course and was told not to wave my hands about. I was told to keep them at my side or if I found that too difficult to hold them behind my back. I think this was very bad advice. Some people, me included, naturally talk with their hands. The hand gestures emphasising and re-iterating the spoken word.  Hand gestures can convey enthusiasm and energy and make the presentation far more lively and interesting.

As long as your hand gestures are natural, don’t waste your effort trying to control them, let them emphasize the points you are making.

  1. “To reduce the nervous tension imagine that your audience is in the nude, or sitting on a toilet”

This is a tactic for combating your nerves which has no place in modern business presentations. I agree with the sentiment that your audience are just people like you or me, no more and no less and as such are nothing to be scared of. But I think there are far more successful ways of reducing any nervous anxiety. I have written about this recently in my article Handling Presentation Nerves.

  1. “Your slides make a good handout”

Slides and handouts are two different things which fulfill different purposes. If your slides make a good handout which can be easily understood and digested without your presence then they are not good slides.  Everyone is likely to be reading your slides and not listening to you.

Slides are also known as visual aids, and the clue here is in their name. Visual aids are meant to be pictures which help your audience to understand the message that you are saying. They should create strong mental images that help people to understand and remember what is you said. Handouts need to have far more information in them to replicate the spoken part of your presentation when you are no longer there.

My advice is to prepare a separate document as a handout and then hand it out after you have finished your presentation. See my article on Visual Aids

 5. “End with a Question and Answer Session”

Ending with “Has anyone got any questions?” is definitely the wrong ending for any type of presentation. You want to leave the audience with your summary or call to action ringing in their ears, not with them thinking about your answer to the last question that was asked, or even worse an embarrassing silence because nobody has any questions.

Now I’m not saying you should never ask if anyone has any questions, I always like to encourage audience participation throughout a presentation, but a Q&A session is not the best way to finish a presentation. The end of your presentation should be a call to action that encourages your audience to fulfill the objective of your presentation.

 

That’s all the myths I’m busting this time but in future articles I’ll tackle a few more prominent presentation myths and folklore including:

“People remember more if they see it as well as hear it”

“That 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”

Follow my blog to get an email when the next installment is published.

All the Best

Graham Young


Telling stories in business

July 23, 2014

On my web site I run a quiz that checks how good a presenter you are. It has run for a several years and I recently collated the results for the last few months.

The most worrying trend that it shows is that most people (94%) think that they need to structure their presentation so that everyone can see where they are going. No doubt this includes having an agenda slide and breaking the presentation down in to sections. While this is very good practice for a written report, it can be deadly for a presentation.

Think of any good film that you have watched recently. Did it have an agenda slide at the start? Did it start by telling you how it would end or what will happen along the way?

No, of course it didn’t.

Films usually start by catching your attention and creating an intriguing situation which makes you wonder what is going to happen next. You are compelled to carry on watching to see how the story unfolds. The script writers, producers and actors engage you; the twists and turns in the storyline keep you wanting to see and hear more.

Compare this with a presentation that starts by telling you that first, I am going to talk about “A”, then we will look at “B” and finally I’ll tell you about “C”. Unless you are excited to hear about “A”, “B” and “C”, you are almost bound to lose interest. If item “C” is what you want to hear about, you’ll immediately switch off and stop listening while the presenter drones on about “A” and “B”. By the time he/she gets to “C” you will probably be mentally elsewhere.

Presentations are not like written reports. Written reports have a contents list so that readers can skip to the parts that are of interest to them. By their very nature presentations are sequential. The speaker decides the order in which he/she is going to talk. As a speaker you need to grab the audience’s attention, engage with them and use similar storytelling techniques as used in the motion picture industry, to hold their attention and make them wonder what you are going to say next. As soon as an audience event thinks that they know what you are going to say next they are likely to switch off.

From the quiz results, it would seem that people are starting to understand this, because the percentage of people who display the bullet points on a slide all at once has dropped from 36% down to 22%. This is an encouraging sign. Although I still feel sorry for the audiences of that 22%, or for that matter audience of any presentation still using bullet points.

There is still someway to go before storytelling is the normal way of giving a business presentation, but if you want to be successful, engaging and influential, I think it is the way to go.

Bruce Gabriel has written a series of 7 articles about how to use storytelling in the boardroom, which I would heartily recommend. You can read it here.

If you would like to do my quiz, you can find it here.


PYO (Pick Your Own) Audience

July 1, 2014

Read any article about creating and delivering a presentation and you will be given advice to find out as much as you can about your audience. In general, I agree with this as your presentation should be of interest to your audience, otherwise no matter how eloquently you speak you are unlikely to win their hearts and minds.

Pick Your Own

Pick Your Own

But what if your audience research unveils a wide range of different knowledge and interest in your topic? For example at an industry conference where an audience may include experienced practitioners, new comers to the industry, customers, competitors, managers, technologists, administrators and students. With such a diverse audience it is difficult to target your presentation at every person. Another example is when you are recording a video to play on your website. In this case, you have little or no control over who may view the video, it could literally be anyone.

One option is to speak in very general terms, that everyone can understand and appreciate, trying to cater for everybody’s needs. The problem with this is that you risk giving such an ineffectual presentation that everyone may think it is okay, but it fails to inspire anyone.

My advice is to PYO, Pick Your Own. Decide who your ideal audience member is and create and deliver a presentation that will be informative, interesting and inspirational for that ideal person. This means that some of your audience will not find your presentation interesting or informative but as the saying goes “You can’t please all the people all the time”.

Your audience is the most important part of your presentation, make sure you tell them what they want or need to know. On those occasions when you don’t know who your audience are, you need to decide who to aim the presentation at because a scatter gun approach is highly unlikely to achieve your presentation objectives.

 

All the best with your presentations

Graham Young

http://www.businesspresentation.biz

 


Two Approaches to Giving a Business Presentation

March 24, 2014

The Typical Approach to Giving
a Business Presentation

The Effective Approach
to Giving a Business Presentation

 

Always use bullet points in PowerPoint. By using bullet points everyone will understand you better because if they missed what you said, they can still read it on the slides.

 

Have striking visual aids with pictures which create strong mental images to back up what you are saying.

 

Start by telling them who you are and your company’s background, including turnover, locations, number of staff etc.

 

Start by grabbing their attention and telling them why they should listen.

 

Bring up each slide and tell people what it says.

 

Use the slides to reinforce what you have just said and help create a strong mental image

 

Use random slide transitions and animation to liven up your presentation

 

Use animation only if it helps to get your point across.

 

Have an agenda slide, at the start of each section, so that your audience knows exactly where you are in your presentation

 

Keep your audience listening; let them discover your message as it unfolds.

 

If you are using charts, create them in Excel and then copy them across with all of the labelling intact. This means that people will be able to understand the slides in detail when they look at them after your presentation.

 

Only display critical information on your charts. Keep them as simple as you can to get the point across. Use infographics.

Provide detailed information in a separate handout afterwards.

 

Apologise if you think a slide is too complex or unreadable

 

 

Never apologise, keep slides simple and to the point

 

Handouts are essential; always give out copies of your slides as handouts before you start.

 

Give out handouts after your presentation. Create a custom handout not a copy of your slides. Handouts and visual aids serve different purposes and need to be different.

 

 

If you’re nervous beforehand, drink lots of Irish coffee or a quick shot of tequila, you soon won’t notice the nerves.

 

If you are nervous, tell yourself you are doing it right, you are supposed to be nervous before an important presentation. Don’t worry about it.

 

 

Anyone who is a bit shy and doesn’t like looking people in the eye should give the presentation staring at a point on the back wall, or looking at the tops of people’s heads.

 

 

People can tell if you are not looking them in the eye, avoiding eye contact will stop an audience engaging with you. Make sure everyone gets some eye contact

 

Speaking quickly will enable you to get more information in to your allotted time.

 

Speak slightly more slowly then you would in a 1 to 1 conversation. Pause before an important point.

 

If you have interesting things to tell them most audiences won’t mind if you over run a bit.

 

Structure and practice your presentation to ensure you always end slightly early

 

Keep your hands still, if you find them waving about put both hands in your pockets.

 

Use positive body language to reinforce the words you are saying.

 

Don’t worry about remembering everything you are going to say, you can always look at your slides to remind you of the key points and any detailed data.

 

Never rely on the slides to remind you what to say. The presenter always leads the slides. If you can’t remember the points you need to make, use Presenter View in PowerPoint with appropriate speaker notes.

 

Emotions have no place in business so just stick to the facts, don’t be tempted to use emotional language as this can be misunderstood.

 

The emotion and passion you bring to a presentation is what distinguishes it from an email. Facts alone will rarely persuade anyone of anything

Give the same standard presentation to every audience. Your audience is the most important part of your presentation. Don’t say what you have to say, say what they want or need to hear.
 

In a sales presentation, tell them about all your products and services. You never know what might be of interest.

 

Find out what problems your audience have and tailored your presentation to meet their needs.

 

Humour is good in most presentations so start with a joke.

 

Humorous asides and comments can encourage audience engagement once you have built a level of trust, but never tell jokes.

 

Have a glass of water to hand, in case  you have a dry mouth.

 

If your mouth is dry suck a mint beforehand, or gently bite the inside of your cheeks to get the saliva flowing, don’t wash it away with water.

 

When presenting to an industry audience it is OK to use lots of jargon and technical terminology, after all they should all know what the TLA’s stand for.

 

Avoid using three letter abbreviations, and technical terms without explaining them first, just in case you audience are not familiar with them.

 

Always end a presentation by asking who has a question they would like answered.

 

Always end a presentation with a call to action, which tells your audience what you would like them to do next.

 

If in doubt just do what everyone else does, they will all be asleep anyway

 

Be different, stand out from the crowd, and make a lasting impression on your audience.

By Graham Young

http://www.businesspresentation.biz


The Presenter and The Visual Aid

February 17, 2014

One of the most common problems with presentations stems from the relationship between the presenter and their visual aids. The relationship between these two aspects of a presentation is fundamental to its success, and it is like the relationship between a man and his donkey.

donkey

Typically a man would use a donkey to help carry the load. Donkeys are very good at carrying heavy loads and are very sure-footed but they rarely know where to go so they must be lead by the man.

Similarly, visual aids can be very good at creating strong mental images which helps the presenter to communicate his or her message. However, the presenter must lead the visual aid.

All too often, presenters bring up the next slide before they start talking about the subject. This may be because they are relying on the slide to remind them what to talk about next, or it may be because they don’t know any better. This turns the whole process of giving a presentation on its head. The slides lead the presentation and the presenter is reduced to the role of explaining what the slides say.

The problem is that the audience look at the slide as soon as it comes up, if the slide is understandable then the audience will immediately know what the presenter is going to talk about. They very quickly decide whether or not they already know about this aspect of the presentation and decide whether to listen to the speaker or switch off.  This is made even worse if the slides contain a set of bullet points, which the audience can read.

While the slides, just like a donkey, can be the presenter’s beast of burden, conveying large amounts of information succinctly and successfully, hence relieving the presenter from having to describe everything in great detail, remember the slides need to be led by the presenter for the presentation to go in the right direction.

What load should your donkey carry?

To put it another way what are your slides for? Your visual aids should be exactly what it says on the tin. They should be something worth looking at and should help to get your message across.

Common mistakes with slides include using then as the speakers notes, which we have already covered above and using them as handouts after the presentation. Visual aids do not make good handouts. If your slides work well as a handout to be re-read after then event when you are no longer present, I can guarantee that they will not work well as visual aids. This is because visual aids need to be designed to accompany the spoken word, while handouts need to be designed as stand alone documents that work on their own without any additional words.

When can your donkey lead?

The only time that it is safe to display a visual aid, in advance of talking about the subject, is when the visual aid needs to be explained before is becomes meaningful. Creating visual aids of this nature can work very well, as when it is displayed they audience look at it and think “what is this all about?” and will immediately turn their attention back to the speaker of an explanation. Well designed animation has its part to play in this type of slide, so that the picture comes together through animation of the slide as the presenter tells the story.

All the very best with your future presentations

By Graham Young

http://www.businesspresentation.biz


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