When I ask clients for phrases describing boring presentations they are quick to answer — monotone voice, no movement, reading off the slides, etc. They come from all walks of life: engineers at Thales, Account managers at Microsoft, sales people at Blackbaud, startup founders at MSVentures. These phrases can be easily turn into unwritten rules that people use as a guideline for when they present — “I must have a monotonous voice”, “I must not ever move”! Below are my top six stupendous unwritten rules. You will recognise them, in others and perhaps yourselves. Which rules do you think you live by?
1) I must read everything , word for word, off the slide. The slide is only a prop, it is NOT the speech! It wants to steal your attention so don’t let it. Treat it like a weather map and use images instead.
2) I must never engage the audience. Your presentation is never about you, it is always about the audience. If you focus on them, trying to move them to action, you will gradually stop focussing on you. We all have a critical voice inside our heads — don’t let it speak!
3) I must mumble with long rambling sentences. Mumbling means you are not thinking about your words. If you are not thinking about your words, your sentences will ramble on. So, if you over pronounce and force yourself to speak short, sharp sentences you will break this rule.
4) I must not move at all. People have a genuine fear of public speaking. Fear can root you to the spot. There is always a fight or flight moment. Take a breath, take the fight to the speech and deliberately move.
5) I must use Jargon. Everybody loves a good story — pick up a kid’s book, think about your favourite movie and you will see no jargon there. My definition of Jargon is meaningful words made meaningless by overuse. Find other words to tell the story of the meaning.
6) I must have no clear beginning, middle, or end.
This is all about confidence. Do we believe that we can actually tell a compelling story? Rambling keeps us locked in our own head and keeps the audience locked out. If you can’t tell the headline of your story in thirty seconds, you can’t tell it well in twenty minutes. Try it. You might be surprised.