Standing up and speaking to an audience – whether it’s a group of five people in your team that you know well, or 500 strangers at a conference – is one of the scariest prospects for many – most? – of us. At =mc even we L&D consultants can find it tough – as you know, our customers demand the highest standards! – despite the fact that we’re presenting every week.
From our own experience and watching many, many other presentations in our careers, we’ve been able to distill three top presenting problems and turn them into positive actions to take if you want to be a great presenter.
Have you ever been really looking forward to seeing a presentation, only to be bitterly disappointed by the speaker not living up to expectations? Some time ago, I was excited to see that one of my learning theory heroes was going to deliver a session at a staff development day I was going to (yes, there is such a thing, and no it wasn’t Bernard Ross). I couldn’t wait to see him in person. I’d read every book and used his models, and eagerly anticipated the additional insights I would gain. Sadly it did not turn out the way I’d hoped.
He walked on to the stage, head down, and made a beeline for the lectern. There he picked up his notes and raised them to cover most of his face. As his hands visibly shook, he cleared his throat noisily and started to speak – or, more accurately, mumble. I couldn’t see him behind his papers, I couldn’t hear what he was saying, and I quickly found myself tuning out and thinking about lunch.
It’s perfectly normal to be nervous standing up in front of an audience. And positive nervous energy can help and energise you. It’s the negative nerves that cause the problem and get in the way of your presentation. Getting control of these is key to being seen and heard.
Another danger zone is ‘knowing too much.’ At a conference some years ago, I chose to go to a session about an important regulation change that would be affecting my work in HR. I wanted to learn about the practicalities of this regulation, and – I hoped – gain some ideas or examples about what I should do as a practitioner.
The presenter clearly knew her stuff – tons and tons of it. But the presentation she’d put together had neither structure nor narrative. She rambled on and on, AND ON. In increasing levels of detail, through 268 slides of graphs, tables, statistics and statutes. Despite my very best efforts, I dozed.
Yes, knowing your topic is important, but what’s vital is being able to shape your knowledge to make it interesting and engaging. Getting control of your material is key to being understood.
And finally, please try to remember there are others in the room with you. A university lecturer of mine was particularly bad at this. His lectures on international migration, population displacement and conflict should have been fascinating, horrifying and inspiring. Not so.
Every week, he walked in, showed us a slide with 3 bullet points on it covering the three key points of the session. Then followed three more slides on each of those bullet points. And then three case studies, one per slide, to go with each of the original bullet points. He timed his lecture to perfection. It had a clear, easy-to-follow structure and we could hear what he was saying. At the end, he turned off the projector, picked up his notes and swept out. No questions, no discussion. There seemed no point in us all being there, so we took it in turns to go and take notes and get a copy of the slides to pass round. He carried on regardless.
Audiences are important in a public presentations – the clue is in the word public. If the audience is irrelevant, send them something to read instead. Assuming it’s not irrelevant, and you are going to have them there, then it’s your job as presenter to involve them, engage them and get them interested. Do this, and they will remember what you have to say. Getting control of your audience is key to having an impact.
Three simple rules. Get a grip on yourself, your material and your audience and you will be a great presenter!
We are running a one-off pop up Transformational Presentation Skills training in central London 26-27 October. Why not come along and find out more secrets of great presenters – and plenty of tools to help you gain control. Or call 020 7978 1516 to find out about in-house training options.
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Clare Segal, Director