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9 ways to lose your presentation audience
You can bore or even tick off a presentation audience all too quickly. Use this expert advice to take your next presentation to a higher level
You know the agony of enduring a bad presentation – too long, too dull, too dark – your ability to pay attention dwindling with each additional bullet point in the speaker’s deck. Yet when it’s time for you to take the stage, it’s easy to fall into the same traps.
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IT leaders who want to take their public speaking to the next level need to ensure that the value of what they have to say is heard. We rounded up advice from the experts on nine mistakes to avoid - whether in small or large group presentation settings. How many of these have you experienced as an audience member? (Yes, we have too.) Read on:
1. Using PowerPoint as a Crutch
Begin developing your presentation as far away from your presentation technology as possible. “Never open PowerPoint when starting a presentation,” warns Mike Parkinson, principal with graphic design firm 24 Hour Company. “Instead, define your goal(s) first and then write your takeaway.” The takeaway – the benefit your audience will receive after they apply the information you share – forms the heart of your talk, with the rest of the presentation explaining or proving it to the audience.
You could even consider going – gasp!– without technology assistance. “Minimize the use of visuals, employing them only if you must have a graph, chart, photo, or keywords,” says Dr. Gilda Carle, a corporate performance coach who provides communication training for Fortune 100 executives. “Visuals often require a darker room, which can put audiences to sleep. You are your message, and visuals should only be used to enhance you.”
2. Filling in the Blanks
If you do get into deck building, “ditch the slide titles when possible,” Parkinson says. “Missing titles force your audience to focus on the presenter to understand the point. It encourages cognitive curiosity which improves understanding, recollection, and adoption.”
Also, avoid the most common templates, images, or graphic elements if you want to engage the audience, says Parkinson. “The human brain pays more attention to things that are different.”
3. Not setting the stage
When speaking at an event or conference, never rely on the host to write your introduction. Write it yourself in advance and send it to the organizers, then bring a hard copy with you. “That way there are no awkward transitions before your presentation,” says Topher Morrison, managing director or personal branding firm Key Person of Influence USA and author of The Book on Public Speaking. “Include your top credentials and instructions for the audience to applaud when you walk on stage. This will create a buffer that harnesses the audience and allows you to take over. No one wants to climb the stage to crickets and then do a cold open.”
4. Sticking to one spot
Gripping the podium or staying glued to your projected PowerPoint is guaranteed to put your audience to sleep. A good presentation fosters intimacy, says Carle, and such physical anchors psychologically distance you from your audience. “Take a risk and put yourself out there in front of the group,” says Tres Roeder, founder of Roeder Consulting and member of the National Speaker’s Association. “Let them see your whole body explaining the content.”
Advanced speakers might consider walking out into the audience and interacting with them during the presentation, says management consultant Ken Lizotte, author of The Speaker's Edge: the Ultimate Guide to Locating and Landing Lots of Speaking Gigs. “This will take a while to learn how do it well but ultimately will pay off by setting you apart from 99 percent of all your business presenter competitors.”
5. Being too professional
If you want to draw the listener in, you need to get a little personal. “Show your vulnerability,” says Carle. “No matter what your organization status, vulnerability positions you as just another human with foibles, who’s not too proud to discuss them.”
Stories are a great way to do that. “The audience learns the most from a presenter that entertains them,” says Morrison. “Don’t start with a preamble, but rather, jump into the story. Preambles tend to ramble and lose the audience’s precious attention.” While everyone loves a truly funny moment in a presentation, it’s best to avoid the jokes unless “you’re gifted with natural humor,” Morrison says. “To make jokes in presentations work, they need to be timed well and paired with the correct audience. Unless it is a sure thing, stick to an intriguing story.”