Having just sat through 20+ presentations and talked to fellow audience members at a Congress in Dublin the other week, I thought I would turn the sometimes tortuous challenge of staying calm sitting in the audience into a What Not To Do List and provide better ways of catering for your audience’s basic Human Rights.
BTW – More than 65% of the presenters were good and about 10% were excellent – However (always a warning word) however, some seemed to be living in the ‘90’s before TED and all those great YouTube videos that clearly spell out how to get audience engagement and knowledge transfer RIGHT.
10 Crimes – The Charge Sheet
1, The Presenter Panicked and Ran – Whether thrown off balance by technical issues, a late start of not having rehearsed against the clock, many presenters, including Key Note Speakers managed to get into a sweaty nervous panic during their talks. When you speed up at the end of your slot, your audience know something is amiss. When you admit that time has got away from you and then do not adjust, the audience become anxious on your behalf and when you say, “I will stop now!” 4 times without finishing, the audience will condemn you to presenter hell in your presence. The cost to you of presenter panic is having an audience close their minds with a slamming sound as the barriers drop preventing any transfer value. What a pity. What a waste. What a misspending of all that preparation time.
If you rehearse against the clock you can measure your content against the allocated time and therefore regain control. Additionally you may have a section that you can jettison if you experience a time scare. Not right at the end but 50 or 60% of the way through. Also keep your piece simple enough for the time allocated. A 90 minute monologue simply doesn’t work in 2017 and 20 minutes is not enough time to outline splitting the atom or finding a cure for world hunger.
When you feel scarcity – SLOW DOWN – This will give you time to think, look cool in front of your audience and present the appearance of being in control. We will repeat this later – Your Audience wants you to SUCCEED.
2, Voice Crime. There is nothing worse for the speaker or the audience than someone sat at the back shouting, “We can’t here you”, ”Please speak up” or, “We can’t hear you at the back.” Beside thinking that they should have got here earlier and found a better seat, this will distract you from your delivery, dilute your message and divide the audience into those who join in the bullying and those that start to pity you. Both groups are not doing you any favours. Add to the crime sheet the monotone presenter, the mutterer or the huddled script reader and you have a case ready for prosecution.
Singing lessons – Yes, I am serious. If you wish to project your voice, if you wish to raise your volume, if you wish never to loose your voice again during a presentation, join a choir or take individual singing lessons. It will do wonders for your voice quality, your confidence and your connection with the audience.
3, Technical Failure To Appear – In Dublin we were treated to the latest and the best equipment but – the presenters with older computers did not have an HDMI slot, the corporate trainers had not all worked with touch screens before and the new Prezi users did not all have enough practice with the application (presumably because they had spent all of their allocated tech time figuring out how to MAKE their first Prezi presentation and had not left enough to practice their show in realistic conditions.) The results were PREDICTABLE. Embarrassing faffing, asking the tech crew for help, delaying the start of the show and demonstrating the presenter’s flaws to the audience before they had managed to accumulate enough credit to afford to appear vulnerable.
Keep your technical level of presentation one level below your technical level of competence. Have a Plan B and back up your data. And don’t expect your venue to have usable WiFi, don’t expect to run YouTube clips live – record them and load them as MP4’s. That way they will run on just about anything. It is the most inexperienced presenters that tend to be the most technically ambitious. Those that have given a few webinars know to expect the unexpected and are able to manage the disruption in technical service with a cool head, an even voice and a smooth transition to the next section of the show.
4. Murder by Slides. The Geneva Convention states that PowerPoint slides must not have more than 20 words on them. Despite this, we saw endlessly wordy, small font decks with no visuals, no colour and no useful transfer potential to them. The audience could either ignore the slides or ignore the presenter and start reading the slides for themselves. A lose-lose.
Separate out the desire to present and the need to transfer data and make some tough decisions before you get to the venue – What will you project with your voice and what data will you MAKE AVAILABLE AFTERWARDS in the form of a hand-out / appendix or further reference materials? Understand that slides can be pretty placeholders, a mechanism to reinforce your message with visual people and a good place for graphics, a pie charge or a simple model. However…nobody wants to multi-task during the show so STOP torturing them and plan your information flow more considerately.
5. Methodology Overdose – Closely related to the point above, in a non- academic context there is ZERO need to reveal the statistical significance of your raw research. The audience have one question for you; WIIFT? What is in it for THEM? How can they apply your experience for their benefit? END of.
As above – offer an appendix, a data hand out or a lab session demonstrating your methods, approach, analysis and technical findings. AND – in your short presentation tell them the interesting bits. How it worked, what the conclusions are and how it can be applied for gain.
6. The Presenter Got High – Audience Altitude – Finding their Level. There are two crimes here – going too high or staying too low. Both ways will crash your presentation vehicle. If you pitch it too low for too long you will build up an irritation in your audience that will come out in people leaving your talk with a noisy banging of doors or firing sarcastic questions at you that interrupt you and undermine your credibility.
It you pitch it too high the crowd will turn into a Zombie Apocalypse before your very eyes. Take this as natural feedback telling you that you failed to do your homework, identify your audience segment and that you omitted to refine your message enough to hit the target.
Do your homework, speak to some people, interview the organisers and don’t take general answers for the truth. Your job is to engage, inform and entertain. Your job is to tell a story. Your job is to move people intellectually and emotionally. Your job is to prevent suicidal thoughts rippling through the front row.
7. If It Pleases Your Honour – Time Management – We have dealt with the panic of starting late, not checking the length of your presentation and of lying about when it will end. This aspect is more about the cultural differences in the perception of the flow of time and gaining explicit permission to tell your story. At the beginning of your talk you have 30 seconds to win the hearts and minds of your audience! If you fail, then the rest of your talk can only do damage – to the hopes and dreams of your audience and to your REPUTATION. When you win their support quickly, you will be given 5 minutes grace … to win their enthusiasm for the next 15 minutes! Do you see how it works?
Hit them hard at the beginning – fire a big gun – a moral question, a challenging fact or a brutal prediction – engage your audience and ask, “Do you want to hear more?” They will then award you explicit permission to continue. Really. This psychological contract will become stronger the more they engage with you – the great presenter.
8. Straying From The Straight And Narrow – There are two ways to leave the path here – audience drift and speaker drift. The former consists of being caught out or taking a side bar because of an audience intervention – through being nice and respecting the audience or the influence of a strong personality sat in the second row, you drift off and ANNOY everyone else. Pleasing a strong personality is not a winning strategy for the whole audience. OR you get on to your pet subject, leave your own path and start busking (the phrase for making it up as you go along) much to the irritation of the linear focussed listeners in front of you. When you start entertaining yourself you automatically disrespect the sensibilities of your audience.
Learn to assert yourself and police your audience – Putting a hand up and saying, “Let’s get back on track” is normally enough. If you are likely to wander away from your presentation pathway, build in milestones to remind yourself of the key points that you must make. If you find yourself drifting too wide of those marks, apologise and return to the point.
9. Criminal Exhibit A – Old Material – The older your material, the greater the chance that the audience will have encountered it before or, and worse still, they will have encountered you before, saying the same thing. There is a famous Dutch father of culture who basically has one keynote speech. What ever you engage him to speak about, out he will come with his one keynote speech – And it is difficult to get a refund sometimes.
Read, listen and watch. Be present to developments. Watch out for shifts in the direction of your specialist subject and keep your presentation approach fresh, present and alive. It is not a crime to renew your perspective, challenge YOUR OWN beliefs and treat your audience to something EXCITING and challenging.
10. Old Lag – You Are Not Enjoying It. The voice in your head starts to unsettle you, “Are they really listening to you?”, “ Do they believe a word you are saying?”, “Do they think you look pretty / handsome?” We can develop all sorts of complexes or simply become bored with our own style or topic when we have been presenting too long and need an upgrade – even the best can suffer from imposter syndrome, delusions of paranoia or become completely immune to the charm of their own material and certainly doubt its power to impress.
And. If you are not enjoying the show as a presenter, you can GUARANTEE that the audience are suffering too. Is it time to hand yourself in to the authorities?
At the beginning of any performance it is a safe bet to assume that the audience want you to DO WELL. They are actively looking for signs that you are relaxed, comfortable and up for this. They want to you to win. At the beginning you can assume that most of them LOVE you. All you have to do is not let them down (too badly.)
It is time to work on your material, work out who your ideal and appreciative audience will be and to work on your delivery, presence and voice so that YOU enjoy the show and THEY benefit from listening to you? Is this the time to seek professional help – a presentation advocate to defend your actions and get you off the charge of being a criminal presenter so that you can walk into your next speech a Free Person?
The Judge’s Summation
With a little planning, anticipation and rehearsal you can avoid cabbages and rotten eggs flying through the air, the tarnishing of your reputation as a speaker or hearing negative mumblings as you leave the building.
Remember presenting represents the single most powerful opportunity to engage with and impress people that you have never met before. Please respect the audience’s patience, attention span, their need for structure, their appreciation of a good story AND their desire for a confident performance from you – THE SPEAKER (defendant.)
I wish you well with you next presentation…
I sentence you to 10 hours Community Presentation Practice – You are free to go…
About the Author – Matthew Hill is a Presentation Skills Coach (amongst other things) He works with ambitious professionals who need to impress and desire to be better. Contact Matthew on; 07540 65 9996. E Mail at firstname.lastname@example.org