Has anyone ever given you presentation advice?
Tips on how to make your presentation?
Guidance on how to engage an audience?
We compile presentation advice daily, and have created a list of 11 common myths about presentations.
Poor advice, all of which we believe you should ignore.
Feel free to add your own in the comments section below!
Of all the ways to begin a presentation, this is the riskiest.
Humour is subjective, so what’s funny for one person in rarely funny for the next.
Most people accept this, but soldier on regardless.
Now you get a race to the bottom, where the joke becomes so catch-all it’s unfunny to everyone.
Antidote: start with the big point.
Figure out what’s in it for your audience.
More money. More time. An easier way of doing things.
Now you have a better start:
“Today my goal is to save you time”.
We’ve all heard it.
“Hopefully I won’t take up too much of your time here”.
The presenter apologises for presenting, elaborating, existing.
And ironically, they’re now taking up your time doing it.
When presenting to senior or large audiences, we can use apologetic language to set expectations low.
To say: “this really isn’t going to be very good, so feel free to leave”.
Antidote: make your presentation brief, but punchy.
Get straight to the point and save your audience time without them knowing it.
Now they’ll get their benefit of your information and be pleased they’ve sacrificed their time to hear from you.
You want to sound professional: fair enough.
So you use larger words than normal and show off by using technical terms without explaining acronyms.
And the audience seems to like it. After all, it’s what everyone else has done.
We’re all professionals here and this is how we speak.
Welcome to the biggest presentation myth of them all.
Research shows that people prefer stories, examples and illustrations.
That if you fail to understand even a small part of the presentation, you’ll feel left out.
Antidote: use simple, visual language.
Of all presentation skills, this is the one an audience is most impressed by.
Remember, of course, that while people may be looking at you, your competition for attention is high. Football scores, a marriage that’s in trouble, a new car.
The potential list is endless.
So captivate them in the same way you would a child with a bedtime story.
Here’s more on making your presentation clear.
It’s tempting to look at Claire, who always gives positive feedback.
When I speak to her and she nods back with an encouraging smile, I can get through the presentation.
Those who are looking away or at their watch? We’ll, they can do what they wish.
They’re not important anyway.
That person who’s looking away may be the decision-maker.
They may be on the panel for my next interview.
Either way, they’ve given up their time to hear from you.
So engage them.
Antidote: include everyone.
Distribute your eye contact evenly across the room.
If more than 20, segment the room into chunks and look at as many people as possible.
It’s a sign of confidence.
Most people are unaware of their body language – and the fact that they’re folding their arms just says they’re comfortable in that position.
In my experience, it’s often the people you least expect that come up and say thank you at the end of the speech.
It’s more engaging to present without notes, right?
Often, but it also puts unnecessary strain onto you.
Antidote: build eye contact by slimming your notes down to bitesize chunks.
You can now glance down at the headlines rather than focus on every single word.
Your audience is counting your ‘erm’s and ‘err’s
In my experience, only one in three or four people notice stuttering noises.
They’re far more interested in what you’re saying.
I’m told we only starting using these noises when the telephone was invented.
We needed a noise to say ‘I’m still here’ whilst thinking.
That’s great news, because if it can be introduced, it can be extroduced.
Antidote: replace stutters with pauses.
Your audience will see the silence as a sign of confidence.
You can even write these into your notes, using the word [PAUSE].
We’re often told to curb our enthusiasm, because it’s un-British.
Well I’m sorry, but I doubt Andy Murray or Rory McIlroy stand over a career-defining serve or drive and think ‘don’t overdo it’.
Antidote: sell it, and make it obvious you’re selling something.
The end of your presentation is a great chance to bring your audience towards an action.
“This is on sale at the back of the room. My name’s Andrew, and I’d love you to come over and buy it. Remember, you’re saving yourself the equivalent of a week a year in doing so”.
In Britain, we tend to dislike sales adjectives, such as ‘amazing’, ‘awesome’ and ‘lifechanging’.
So avoid these, by all means. Tell your audience about the product’s benefits and how you believe it will make a difference.
Just make something up. Anything to get you out of this awkward moment.
I should know the answer to this, I’m a member of the Senior Management.
It’s impossible to know everything.
And if you make something up, it can come back to bite you.
If you evade the question like a politician, people will see through it.
Antidote: say ‘I don’t know’.
Let the person know where they can get the right answer and give the benefit of something you do know:
“What’s the current position of the business regarding debt?”
“I don’t know – that will be in the Company Accounts – what I do know is that we’ve seen growth year-on-year for the last five, and that’s what gives me confidence”.
“That’s a really good question, and I’m glad you asked me it”.
“Can you please repeat the question?”
The audience sees through both of these.
Antidote: take a few seconds to think.
It’s fine to take a moment.
Another sign of confidence.
Remember that we think three times as quickly as we speak, so two seconds feels like six.
OK, this one comes with a health warning.
I presented a session last week when the audience was told they were being imagined naked by the presenter.
Cue a few awkward shuffles around the table and a voice asking:
“Can we put our clothes back on yet?”
Focusing on something so bizarre can put you off track.
It’s designed to make the presenter feel at ease, but often has the opposite effect.
Antidote: picture the audience standing up and clapping afterwards.
Use words such as “I’m excited to be here” to control the nerves.
Here’s more on how to deal with anxiety during presentations.
Ah, the corporate presentation.
The one we’ve seen countless times before.
Where you skip through the first three slides because they’re irrelevant.
You know it well, and you feel it works.
Here’s the thing.
Your audience feels disappointed that they’re unimportant.
Because we recognise a corporate presentation when we see one.
Antidote: create a fresh presentation for every audience.
Start with something topical.
A football analogy for the World Cup.
A story about the last time you were in this building.
A precis of a conversation you had with somebody five minutes ago over coffee.
Now explain everything in a way that’s relevant to the room.
The very first piece of advice I was ever given.
There are two problems with this:
One – your impression of the presentation is skewed by the fact that you’re speaking and analysing at the same time.
Two – your mirror is unlikely to give you feedback.
Antidote: practise using your phone.
Even better, practise in front of a colleague.
Ask them to feed back on things they liked and things they would change.
Now you can make the feedback far more objective.
What the worst piece of presentation advice have you been given?
We’d love to hear your thoughts – simply comment below.
Andrew McFarlan is the Managing Director of Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.
You can view his full profile here.
Photos by: pasa47 / CC BY; Brandon Christopher Warren / CC BY-NC; nayukim / CC BY; ulianne / CC BY-NC-ND; Daniel E Lee / CC BY-NC-ND; The U.S. National Archives; Wiertz Sébastien / CC BY-NC-ND; all on Foter.com.
Some media trainers knock you down…and leave you down. Our media coaches show you how to deal with each knock…and still win through. So you have the presentation skills to perform – with confidence.