Presentations – Traps to avoid when you speak

Whenever you begin to speak, whether your audience is one person or a thousand, you want to get a specific message across.  Maybe you want your opinions heard at meetings, or perhaps you are giving a formal presentation, internally or externally.

Anyone who sets out to present, persuade and propel with the spoken word faces these major pitfalls:

1. UNCLEAR THINKING.  If you can’t describe what you are talking about in one sentence, you may be guilty of fuzzy focus or trying to cover too many topics.  Your listeners will probably be confused too and their attention will soon wander.  Whether you are improving your own skills or helping someone else to create a presentation, the biggest (and most difficult) challenge is to start with a one-sentence premise or objective.

2. NO CLEAR STRUCTURE.  Make it easy for your audience to follow what you are saying.  They’ll remember it better – and you will too as you deliver your information and ideas.  If you waffle, ramble, or never get to the point, your listeners will tune you out.  Start with a strong opening related to your premise; state your premise.

3. NO MEMORABLE STORIES.  People rarely remember your exact words.  Instead, they remember the mental images that your words inspire.  Support your key points with vivid, relevant stories.  Help your listeners ‘make the movie’ in their heads by using memorable characters, engaging situations, dialogue, suspense, drama and humour.  In fact, if you can open with a highly visual image, dramatic or amusing (but not a joke!) that supports your premise, you’ve got them hooked.

4. NO EMOTIONAL CONNECTION.  The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections.  Intellectual means appealing to educated self-interest with data and reasoned arguments.  Emotional comes from engaging the listeners’ imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories by frequently using the word ‘you’ and by answering their unspoken question, “What’s in this for me?”  Use a ‘high I/You ratio.’

5. WRONG LEVEL OF ABSTRACTION.  Are you providing the big picture and overview when your listeners are hungry for details, facts and specific how-to’s?  Or are you drowning them in data when they need to position themselves with an overview and find out why they should care?  Get on the same wave length with your listeners.   Think of ‘fat’ and ‘skinny’ words.  Fat words describe the big picture, goals, ideals, outcomes.  Skinny words are minute details and specific who, what, when and how.  In general, senior management needs fat words.  Middle management requires medium words.  Technical staff require skinny words.  Feed them according to their appetites.

6. NO PAUSES.  Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace, pauses and full rests.  This is when listeners think about what has just been said.  If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much information as possible, chances are you’ve left your listeners back at the station.  It’s okay to talk quickly, but pause whenever you say something profound or proactive or you ask a rhetorical question.  This gives the audience a chance to think about what you’ve said and to internalise it.

7. IRRITATING NON-WORDS.  “Hmm – ah – er – you know what I mean”.  Record yourself to check for bad verbal habits.  Then keep taping yourself redelivering the same material until such audience aggravators have vanished.  You could also give your friends permission to point out when you are using these filler words.