A Bone to Pick with Presenters

Maybe it’s the former radio personality in me, or possible the voice over actor, or more likely even the teacher in me who’s given a few thousand presentations in his life, or a mixture of the above but I have a bone or two to pick with the world.

If you speak to a room of technically minded people and you have more twang to your voice than Jethro Clampett, said room will find you to be both ignorant and completely stupid. More so if you use filler words, and not just the simple minded uhs and ums you will lose all credibility. Replacing an um with phrases like “well in reality” or “to get off of it” or <insert whatever phrase just popped in your mind> then you’ve done very little to improve your presentation skills and instead have insulted your audience because we truly know better.

And if you do choose to present you’re magnificent gadget or doodah to a room full of technically minded people, remember that we’re not stupid. One thing I think we’ve lost in the world is honesty in presentation. And I mean actual honesty in the face of a question I don’t know the answer to guess how I respond. I say, “Well I just don’t know.” I don’t do it to feel superior I do it so I’m not wasting the time of my informed masses who have taken precious time from their day to listen to what I have to say and would rather they know I’m only going to provide what information I can be and will be an authority for. I usually offer to find the information and get back to them as a courtesy but in the end it’s the honesty I offer and the transparency I wrap around my ignorance to what I don’t know that solidifies the words and my authority of said words for the topics for which I am informed and sharing to my audience.

Take that PowerPoint Presentation and shove it right up your ass. Now I won’t even begin to stand here (or sit as I type this) and tell you I’ve never used nor will I ever use PowerPoint Presentations in my speeches, demonstrations or the like, because I have, I am, and I will again many times. What I’m saying is simply move around a little and for the love of god stop turning your back to the room while you present. Didn’t you create these slides? And I assume (incorrectly it seems) that you practiced the presentation and as such had the projector failed (which can, has and will happen) you wouldn’t miss a single beat? I’m reminded of my interview with a small Training Franchise all the way back in 2004 when I decided to change careers and go teach for a while. I was asked to prepare a presentation and a “teach” on the Seven Layers of the OSi Model. FYI, if you don’t already know it’s about as dry a topic as one might expect to those who aren’t all geeky like me. One of the reasons I was hired (as I’ve been told by the franchise owner) was due to the fact that the projector did in fact fail during my presentation. And I not only didn’t skip a single beat, but I got more animated as a result.

So be animated. If you’ve seen me present you’ll notice I move around a lot, I wave my arms, I jaunt back and forth and I’m not the only one. Think back to a presentation that (no matter the subject covered) simply captivated you. Now remember did that presenter simply stand behind a podium. Of course not he or she was likely making as much use of the space provided as humanly possible. And even in small meeting rooms and tiny cramped conference tables you have ZERO excuse to not make use of your space.

Now I know what you’re thinking. But rev I’m always presenting on phone calls and I’m just not able to move around. Honestly, that’s a lazy excuse and a bad one at that. My current job has me working from home which means that 100% of my job (like many telecommuters) is entirely virtual and done via phone calls. When you’re on the phone talking to a group (large or small) you will learn, if you haven’t already there are a few key ingredients to what makes for both good presentation and good conversation. And that my friend is the first lesson. When you are talking on a conference call remember this is a conversation, not some single sided word vomit spewing from your mouth to their ears.

So firstly learn to listen, and I don’t mean fake listening or active listening, although if you haven’t mastered active listening by now please go learn that as well. The type of listening I’m referring to goes beyond that, because as you recall you’re here presenting the solution to their problem which means you’d better be listening as most problems are rarely spoken coherently the first time. You need to weed through the bull and find the root of the issue and respond directly to it. Don’t dance around it, don’t pretend like you have the panacea if you don’t and when you speak, as in the case of a phone call your voice is the entirety of your being to these people, remember to speak clearly, slowly if needed (but not patronizingly so) and with purpose. Don’t fill silence just to fill silence. Don’t speak with an accent, and if you don’t think you have one you do, unless you’re from the middle Ohio Valley where accents go to die. Don’t use colloquial slangs and “isms.” Do speak professionally, but always remember your audience. Don’t use vocabulary that would speak up or down to your audience and be ready to change said vocabulary as the conversation moves on. Have no idea what vocabulary to use for your specific audience? Then go back to listening.

Lastly but as cliché as it sounds be yourself. I know I just told you not to speak with an accent, but that’s more about keeping your credibility than anything else. By that same token if you bullshit a room and “fake it” trust me they will know, and you’ll come off like a complete ass. Will you become the best presenter in a day? Of course not, that will take time, so practice. And when you’re done practicing go practice some more. If you have a big meeting coming up or a presentation to give at a corporate retreat or trade show make sure you present it to your family friends and anyone else willing to listen to you drone on about crap they could care less about. Its good experience and its necessary to better your presentation skills.


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