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

 

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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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