How to #!@$ up a Presentation!

27 September, 2007

You understand your audience, you’ve put together a great slideshow, and you know your subject inside out – but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to give a great presentation and communicate your message in a coherent, persuasive and memorable way! Here are 10 things presenters do that can undo the best laid plans…

1.    Stand behind the podium

When I see someone standing behind a podium I’m taken back to boring classes/lectures at school or university. Podiums are a barrier between you and the audience and can even make you look arrogant and superior. Speakers use podiums because they’re nervous and need to feel ‘above’ their audience.

Get away from the podium and amongst your audience to quickly create a rapport. If there’s a podium in the room when you arrive, ask the organiser to take it away. You don’t need it.

2.    Wear a jacket

I don’t care how smartly dressed your audience are – when you wear a jacket, you look as if you’re not stopping! Taking your jacket off makes you look and feel more relaxed, helps you move about more, and signals to the audience that you’re not about to rush off somewhere more important.

3.    Drink too much coffee

You’re nervous about your talk – it’s normal – so you didn’t sleep too well last night. You get to the venue. They offer you coffee. You drink it, & you feel more awake. They offer you more. You drink it. They…you get the point.

You might feel more alert, but all that caffeine will make you feel even more nervous and jumpy. Coffee dehydrates you so after you’ve been speaking for a few minutes you’ll get a very dry mouth & you’ll need to drink water. And even the strongest of bladders will give in eventually! Stick to one cup and then drink lots of water.

4.    Hold a microphone

Nervous speakers like to have something to hold onto, and what better (and less obvious) than a nice big microphone! However, unless you’re a rock star, the chances are that mike will make you look very awkward indeed, and you’ll either hold it too close to your mouth or too far away. Also, holding a mike inhibits the hand gestures that good presenters use to emphasise certain points and provide some visual stimuli.

Most venues these days can supply clip-on mikes so always ask for one. Or even better, if you’re speaking in a fairly small room, check the acoustics and you’ll probably find you don’t need a mike at all.

5.    Make inappropriate comments

I attended a large seminar in Ho Chi Minh City a couple of months ago, organised by a well-known US organisation. They’d flown in a guest speaker for the event and, like many speakers, he began his talk by praising the local city and country – a good way to get a rapport going, after all. However, instead of focusing on the food, the hospitality or the architecture, he homed in on the attractiveness of the local females, and even pointed out a few choice examples in the seminar room. Thus he revealed himself from the off as a bit of a sleazeball and this first impression coloured everyone’s reaction to the rest of his talk.

So if you’re giving a talk in another country, do a bit of basic research into cultural dos & don’ts before you go, and if you’re in any doubt, leave it out!

6.    Apologise

Sometimes, things go wrong. The laptop which worked perfectly well in your office the night before has suddenly decided to crash. The hotel’s projector can’t display your carefully-chosen images clearly. The aircon isn’t working. Sometimes it’ll be your fault, sometimes it won’t. But don’t apologise. Apologies make you look incompetent and not in control of the event.

Technical glitches are a good opportunity to ad-lib and have a bit of banter with the audience, to show that you’re not just a public speaking robot. I recently did an event with Microsoft Vietnam, and their speaker had prepared a video to show the audience, but Windows Media refused to play ball. “Just because I work for Microsoft doesn’t mean it always works for me” he said, getting a big laugh from the attendees.

Sure, apologise if you’re late, or if you spill water over someone in the audience. But don’t apologise on behalf of your technology – sometimes it just has a mind of its own, and everyone in the room will have experienced similar problems themselves.

7.    Touch the laptop

If you’re hitting the spacebar to advance your slides, you’re tied to the same spot. Invest a few quid in a remote clicker. Using a small clicker which the audience barely notice makes you look like a real pro.

8.    Keep looking at the screen

The constant glance behind at the screen is the sign of a speaker who doesn’t know their material. And you’re not reading off your slides anyway, are you?

I always try and make sure that my laptop is positioned somewhere within my line of vision, usually front-left or front-right, so I can make the occasional glance just to check I’m where I think I am! Position the laptop in front of the audience and most of them won’t notice what you’re doing.

9.    Finish with a Q&A

“Any more questions? No? OK, thanks for listening…” Not the most memorable way to end a presentation, but it’s how most presentations end – or rather, fizzle out.

Make sure you end with a bang by having a good story, anecdote or fact to hit your audience with AFTER the Q&A has finished. It makes you look professional and ends your talk on a memorable note.

10.    Rush off

The 10-15 minutes at the end of your talk are often the time when meetings are arranged, business gets done, and attendees praise your talk and even invite you to speak again for them. Yet it’s surprising how many speakers don’t hang around to chat to their audience individually, field private questions, or exchange contact details.

If you’ve followed steps 1-9 you will have come across as being very approachable, and your audience will want to approach you – stick around and give them the chance!

Speaking can be a stressful business and you’ll doubtless commit at least one of the above sins during your next talk, maybe without even realising it! But avoiding these common mistakes goes a long way towards helping you communicate your message as effectively as possible, makes your presentation enjoyable for the audience, and gives you a professional and approachable image in the eyes of your audience – some of whom will be future customers, partners or even employers!

One Response to “How to #!@$ up a Presentation!”

  1. Anjuan Says:

    I am taking a business communication course in my MBA program, and, if half of what you outlined here was absorbed and implemented by my class, then we would be on our way to becoming great presenters. This is great stuff!



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