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

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Never let an audience get ahead of you

January 27, 2015

Letting the audience get ahead of you is one of the most common ways of killing a good presentation.

Once your audience know what you are going to say next, or even just think that they know what you are going to say next, there is a strong tendency for them to switch off and start thinking about other things. They will get bored waiting for you to say it and get on to the next point.

But how can an audience get ahead of you?

There are many ways for an audience can get ahead of you, if you let them. One of the most common ways is when you put up a slide with several bullet points on it and start working your way down the list. Before you are even through the first sentence describing the first bullet point, your audience will have read the slide. If the bullets are self explanatory, then they will get ahead of you. They will have caught the gist of what you are going to say and then have to wait for you to say it. While they are waiting, their minds will wander and you will have to work much harder to recapture their attention.

Using the line by line reveal facility in PowerPoint, will reduce the scale of the problem but still does not cure it. If you bring up the bullet point first and then start talking about it, you have still let the audience get ahead of you, and you will be telling them “old news”, as they have already read the headline. If you have to use bullet points, bring them up after you have talked about the topic to reinforce what it is you have said. Better still uses some pictures or even some physical props to help get your message across and leave the bullet points on your speaker notes.

Of course, handing out printed copies of the whole presentation before the event is another classic way of allowing the audience to get ahead of you. Have you ever looked at the audience during the first key note speech at a conference? Most of them will still be scanning through the handouts working out which presentations they think will be worth listening to, not paying the slightest attention to what the key note speaker is saying.

In the same vain, putting up an agenda slide at the start of a presentation is another way for your audience to “get ahead”. I know it is fairly common practise to have an agenda slide at the start of a presentation but I think this is done more out of habit than for the benefit to your audience. How many feature films do you know that start with an agenda? Agenda or contents pages are only relevant to printed documents so that the reader can skip to the part they are most interested in. Do you want your audience to skip to the part of your presentation they are most interested in, and ignore the rest?

Presentations need to have a structure, so that your audience can understand how you have taken them to where they are now. But this structure does not need to be broadcast in advance in can be revealed as you go along.

To keep an audience listening you need to build in some suspense and tension just like in a television drama or a play. Don’t give the game away by letting them see a précis of your talk before you have a chance to speak.

All the very best for your future presentations

Graham

http://www.businesspresentation.biz

 

 


Public Speaking – It isn’t what it used to be

April 29, 2013

You may think that the presentation techniques that great orators use to engage with and command an audience’s attention haven’t changed much over the years. Certainly the many of the core techniques that were relevant when Julius Caesar was speaking to The Senate are still relevant today.

Most presentation training courses cover such things in excruciating detail and they include:

  • Rehearsal
  • Eye contact
  • Appearing confident
  • Removing noise words like err and umm
  • Standing upright
  • Breathing
  • Body Language
  • Knowing your audience
  • Remembering what to say
  • Having a structure
  • Being Concise
  • Minimising distractions
  • Using the rule of 3
  • Using rhetoric
  • Engaging your audience

But there are two main aspects of giving a presentation which have changed significantly over the last few years as technology continues to improve and audiences become less forgiving.

The first of these is the reduction in the use of bullet points and text on your visual aids, replacing it with graphics, pictures and images. I have recently covered this in my post “Less text – More Imagery”.

As well as having more impact, using less text and more imagery will stop you using your visual aids as a crutch and stop you reading from the slides.

The second major change is in the audiences’ attitudes towards the presenter and his/her content. These day, people are far less forgiving of poor presentations. The sheer volume of information available to each and every one of us, means that everyone has had to become far more selective in deciding what information we need to listen to. Attention spans have shrunk through the constant bombardment of 140 character messages, speed scanning of websites, text messages and the ever increasing speed of change.

To compete with all the other demands on people’s attention, your presentations have to deliver exactly what your audience needs and fast.  Waste time introducing yourself and your company at the start of a presentation and you will probably have lost your audience even before you get to the interesting bit. Your presentations need to hit the ground running, focus on the import point to get your message across and then prepare your audience for what comes next.

Too many corporate presentations spend too long talking about “who we are” at the start of the presentation. Boasting about the number of offices, geographical coverage, turnover and number of employees and what awards that they have won. These days you are better off getting straight to the point as to what you can do for your prospective customer. Tell them how they will benefit and then tell them what they need to do next, to make it happen. Then sit down.

Maybe that is not so different from what the good orators did years ago, it may just be that lots of people thought that their business presentation should be about themselves when it should be about their customers.

By Graham Young

Young Markets

www.businesspresentation.biz


Preparing a Presentation

January 24, 2012

When you are under pressure at work it can be difficult to allocate the appropriate amount of time to preparing a presentation that you have been asked to give. But as we all know “failing to plan is planning to fail” and this has never be more true when it comes to giving a presentation.

There are three main parts to preparing a presentation:

  • Deciding what to say.
  • Deciding how to say it.
  • Preparing yourself to say it.

What to say

Let’s start with “Deciding what to say”, this is really all about your audience and what you would like them to do. What do you want your presentation to achieve? What is your objective? How will you know if you have achieved your objective? You need to be really clear on what your aim is, so take some time at the start to work out why you are giving the presentation and what you want it to achieve. If you can write this down in one or two sentences you will have a good foundation for your presentation.

Having decided your objective, then start thinking about your audience. Who are they? Why are they coming to listen to you? What do they know about the topic already? What is it that they want or need to hear? The more you can find out about your audience the more accurately you can pitch your presentation to meet their needs and desires. When addressing a mixed audience try to define two or three different segments of your audience and create two or three alternative scenarios.

Having established why and who, it is then time to start thinking and researching what it is your going to say. Having a structure to fit the points you want to make in to is very helpful. One structure I have used successfully many times is to start by outlining the problems with the current way of doing something and the describing a vision of success, a picture of how it could be if things were different. Then go one to describe how this vision could be attained, summarizing all the benefits of the approach, inviting the audience to join you in achieving this vision which you can then restate at the end of the presentation. Don’t be tempted to add in everything that you can think of, maintain a structure. Three key points backed up by evidence or anecdotes is usually sufficient for most presentations.

It is at this point that many people make the mistake of opening PowerPoint and creating lists of slides titles and bullet points. While bullet points may be a useful way to document the points you wish to make in a speech, they do not make good visual aids.

How to Say it

Having pulled all you material together and being familiar with the main point you wish to get across, you can now turn to planning how you are going to convey this information. Are you going to stand and talk? Will you have any props to help get the message across? Will you use visual aids and if so what will they be? Are you going to tell a story? How will you involve your audience? Will you ask them questions?

Rehearse your presentation by saying it out loud. Sitting at your desk clicking though a set of slides is no way to rehearse a presentation. You need to say it out loud to become familiar with your material and to become accustomed to saying the words. By rehearsing a presentation out loud you can develop the phraseology which will work best in the spoken form, rather than the more formal style of language we use when we are writing. A single rehearsal will improve your speech by up to 80%.

You don’t need to have anyone listening to you especially the first time through, although it can help to tape record or video record your presentation rehearsal so that you get a clear view of what you actually sound and look like. I often turn off the radio and rehearse a presentation in the car on the way to the location. It is a great way to rehearse and the presentation and make sure you know what you are going to say, plus it is fresh in your mind when you arrive.

Preparing to say it

Finally, you need to put yourself in the right frame of mind for giving a presentation. If you do not feel confident you need to address it. Tell yourself that being nervous is OK, in fact, if it is an important presentation it is perfectly normal to feel nervous, you just want to recognise that you are nervous and put it to one side, while you get on with the job in hand.

Use confident boosting techniques like telling your self that you are “Poised, prepared, persuasive, positive and powerful “ and that you feel, “composed, confident, convincing, commanding and compelling”.

To counteract a dry mouth, suck a mint beforehand. Use breathing techniques to ensure there is sufficient oxygen in your bloodstream or take some gentle exercise beforehand. Wear clothes that make you feel good. Remember, the facts will only take your audience so far, it is your passion for the subject and your emotion that will lift your presentation to new heights.

Make sure you arrive at the venue, nice and early, so that you have time to get set up and familiarise your self with the surroundings, before your audience arrive. Work out where you are going to put any notes, or props you intend using and think through how any equipment you are going to use will work. Check any pens have ink in them, check your laptop to ensure the screen save, or instant messaging won’t pop up in the middle of your presentation and make sure your mobile is on silent.

Don’t rely on an off the cuff presentation, just because you know about the topic doesn’t mean you can effortlessly give a quality presentation, it takes time, it takes thought and it takes practise.


The right way to give presentations?

April 15, 2011

 Are you a lefty or a righty when it comes to giving a presentation?  Which side scores the most ticks for you?

How most people make a presentation How people make the most of a presentation
Worry about being nervous   Acknowledge the nerves and put them to one side  
Introduce yourself with your name and talk title   Grab attention – do something unexpected but in line with your talk  
Use colourful templates to add interest   Have a consistent design layout  
Use bullet points on their slide   Use visual aids which are visual and aid understanding  
Use small a font to include all the detail   Use big fonts to make big statements  
Ramble – or structure it so people know exactly what you are going to say next   Structure your presentation so audience can see where you have come from but not where you are going, maintain some suspense  
Talk about themselves and their achievements   Talk about their audience’s wants and needs  
Use clip art and unrelated images   Use pictures that create strong mental images  
Read the slides   Lead the presentation, with slides as an aid  
Use a monotone voice   Be emotional, give a performance  
Talk at their audience   Talk with their audience  
Forget to summarize   Summarize the 3 key points  
Give copies of slides as handouts before   Give detailed handouts after  
Stop talking when you have run out of things to say   Finish with a call to action before your audience stop listening  

If you scored more lefts than rights the right thing to do is to come on a presentation skills course.

If you scored more rights, well done, keep up the good work and keep spreading good presentation practise.


Informative or Educational Presentations

August 5, 2010

In an earlier entry in this blog entitles “Sales Presentation Training”, I made the slightly controversial statement that “I would venture to suggest that if it is irrelevant what people do with the knowledge you impart through your presentation your presentation itself becomes irrelevant and there is no point in giving it.”

I now recognise that this statement was misplaced. In the article I was putting forward the argument that a business presentation is invariably trying to sell something, whether it is a product/service/solution or possibly just and idea or new way of working. As a result, the best structure for a business presentation is that of a sales presentation, where you establish the need, by outlining a pain or problem, create a vision of success that your audience can buy into and then describe how you can achieve that vision and the benefits that it accrues.

Many business presentations do fit this structure and identifying the problem to be solved at the outset, is often a very good approach. However, my views are starting to mellow, and I now recognise that it is possible to justify giving a presentation, even though you are ambivalent as to what your audience do with the information you provide. In these cases the objective of the presentation is merely to inform or educate and you leave the decision of what to do with this new knowledge purely in the hands of your audience. The choice as to whether you educate your audience through a presentation rather than any other media is based on the effectiveness of the media.

So given that you want to create and deliver a purely educational presentation the question then is how should you structure it. My starting point is the same as it is for a selling presentation. You need to start by thinking about what you would like your audience to be able to do or feel after your presentation is finished and how this differs from before it. This statement suggests you already know what they can or do do now. If you don’t it may be best to try to find out in advance of your presentation or you run the risk of “teaching your grandmother to suck eggs”.

There are two ways to tackle the next part, either to choose a structure and then fill it in, or brainstorm anything and everything to do with the subject, and see what structures emerge, by collating the results of the brainstorming session.

Which ever way you choose to do it, you must have a structure, it is imperative. A loose collection of facts and opinions is of little use.

There are many structures you can use but most of the best have 3 legs or sections.

For instance you could structure the presentation in chronological order, This is how we used to do it, this is how it is done now, and this is what we propose for the future.

You can use problem /solution/benefit models, describe the problem, describe how it could be solved and then state the benefits of doing so. This is close to the classic sales presentation model.

With the” tell-show-do” structure you tell your audience how to do something, show them it and then let them have a go, this is a very participative form of presentation, which may not always be suitable for larger audiences.

If the audience needs to make a decision, then describe the alternative scenarios and the pros and cons of each. The phrases “on one hand…” followed by “on the other hand…”,  “or there is the middle course…” often works well in this situation.

If none of the above work for you, choose 3 key points, consider each of these point s as the peak of a pyramid and amass around each pyramid the supporting evidence and consequences of adopting that key point. If you find that much of the supporting evidence is relevant to 2 or more pyramids, you may decided to combine those pyramids and create a new pyramid for a different key point. Aim for 3 pyramids and definitely no more than 5.

Now refine your information, cut out weaker supporting arguments, augment with stronger ones with statistical or anecdotal evidence. Keep in mind who your audience are and review your presentation by asking the question,” will my audience care about this point?” as you go through it point by point.

Once the body of the presentation is complete there are 3 other things to do.

  1. Think up an attention grabbing opening. Something your audience is not expecting, a rhetorical question, or a well know quotation all work well.
  2. Decide on your call to action, or concluding assertion which summarises what you want people to do or to think after your presentation. This should be the last thing you say before you sit down, if you continue to talk after your final call to action or assertion it will lose its effectiveness.
  3. Create some good visual aids which illustrate the points that you are making, if you are using PowerPoint or similar, do not be tempted to write text bullets on your slides, which remind you what to say. Any such notes as these should be confined to your speaker notes not presented to your audience. Instead try to think of some mentally stimulating images which emphasise the points you are making.

Finally don’t forget to rehearse your presentation out loud, so that when you give it you do so with passion, enthusiasm and conviction.

 You can get more tips on effective presentations from my presentation training website.


How to answer questions in a presentation

November 27, 2009

Today’s twip is:

#prestip: Paraphrase a question to ensure you have understood it and give yourself time to think. http://digg.com/u173rk

Yesterday the tip was about how to ask questions, today it is the turn of how to answer them.

When you are asked a question from the floor, always wait until the questioner has finished speaking, don’t be tempted to interrupt just because you think you know what the question is going to be.

Give the questioner some respect by waiting until he/she has finished, then paraphrase the question back to the person who asked it. This serves three purposes. First of all it makes sure you have understood the question properly, secondly it ensures everyone else in the audience has heard the question and finally it gives you some time to think of a good answer.

Normally, when you answer a quesion, 25% of your eye contact should be to the questioner and 75% around the rest of the audience. When you have finished answering the question look at the questioner to ensure he/she is happy with your answer, unless of course you think this is likely to create an opportunity for them to ask another unwanted question. In this case, you should ensure you are not looking at the questioner when you come to the end of your answer, and then just carry on with the presentation.

In general, it is a good idea to think of the three worst questions you could be asked and work out three good answers as part of your presentation development. Doing so will help boost your confidence and with any luck they will never be asked.

For more hints and tips on effective business presentations please visit my presentation training web site.

All the best

Graham Young


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