3 Toxic Speaking Habits That Will Ruin Your Presentation — and how to avoid them
Almost a year ago I wrote an article called: The Most Important Skill in the World Today — Public Speaking in which I said “Brilliant academic qualifications, world class technical training, status, position or experience are all severely hindered in the absence of the ability to express ourselves with the confidence.”
In other words, how often have you experienced a colleague who is clearly a highly intelligent, creative and talented professional almost send you to sleep with their presentation?
Sadly it’s still all too common.
A presenter inflicting such pain on their colleagues may continue to do so in the ignorant bliss that all their audience care about is their knowledge and expertise. However, the truth is we all know that today’s audiences are incredibly discerning professionals who are extremely busy and the one thing they don’t have time for is boredom.
Please don’t let how much you know lull you into a safe haven of believing that you can disregard your audience’s emotional needs by simply satisfying their intellectual interests. It may be 2017 but the fact is there are still a vast number of bad habits that professionals are exhibiting in business across the world every day.
That toxicity extends itself not only to the presenter’s audience but crucially to the longevity and success of some people’s careers. Here are 3 of the big ones that we see every week in some of the most successful brands in the world that we urge you to acknowledge and avoid yourself.
The phenomenon ‘Death by PowerPoint’ has been around for at least a decade and its one most of us are not only familiar with, but have been victims of. Only yesterday I was leading a presentation training workshop for a team of executives in London when I saw it again in the very next room.
During our short coffee break as I left the training room I noticed that in the meeting room right next door to the one we were working in another presentation was in full swing. As it was a glass wall I could of course see everything that was going on in the room and here is what I saw.
A speaker presenting PowerPoint slides to an audience of at least 20 people.
The slide on the screen as I stood discreetly to observe contained 12 bullet points, (I counted them) all appearing at the same time squashed onto the slide in a very small font. The speaker stood with his back practically facing the audience as he read out each of the bullet points to a room full of highly intelligent, creative, talented and responsible professionals.
This of course represents one of the most common and toxic bad habits we still see every day. It’s toxic because to the audience its nothing but ‘noise’.
If I had walked into that room in that moment and asked the speaker if he was familiar with the concept ‘Death by PowerPoint’ I’m confident he would have said ‘yes, of course’. Yet there he was doing it himself to 20 fellow human beings.
It has to stop.
Stop using bullet points, your audience don’t like them and you don’t need them.
Present only one idea per slide.
Think ‘Billboard’ — Use images, big bold and compelling headlines.
Ask yourself what purpose the slide serves your audience (not you) and its intended impact.
2. More noise
When we are training or coaching at Mindful Presenter and our clients stand to speak the very first question we ask them before they utter a word is ‘What do you want your audience to feel?’ Sadly, a common response to that question is ‘informed’. If that’s what you set out as your intention for your audience please know that it is a bad habit which is also toxic, let me explain.
Unless you are a comedian or entertainer, it’s a given that you are there to share knowledge and to therefore inform your audience. On its own, however, it is not enough. If that’s all you do, it can be very boring to listen to. We already live in a world of information and distractions and your audience are likely to perceive your information as ‘more noise’.
Information can very easily, and sometimes far more efficiently be delivered in an email or document. You don’t necessarily need to ask people to leave the comfort of their home or office or travel miles to listen to you.
They want the information, facts and data but not at the expense of their mental and emotional well-being.
Decide in advance what you want them to do with the information and how you want them to feel.
Breathe life into the information by telling them the story behind it. Use anecdotes, give them examples and make them feel something.
Ask yourself whether they really need to attend a presentation and whether you could simply say what you have to say in an email.
Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself why the information matters, why they should care, what tangible difference it will make to them and how you would like to feel about it.
Don’t dump information on them.
Deliver the information with energy, presence, purpose and impact.
3. Still more noise
At a recent presentation training workshop I asked the delegates to each write down any bad habits they were aware of whilst they were presenting. One delegate wrote down that she spent far too little time preparing and no time at all practicing her presentation.
She wasn’t too impressed with my response in sharing a strategy to overcome her perceived bad habit. I told her that it didn’t sound like a bad habit to me as from what she described I expressed by concern that it felt more a case of her being lazy and/or not caring enough about her audience.
I explained that given that every presentation is about the audience rather than the speaker, if we don’t commit and dedicate ample time to preparing and practicing our presentation we are doing our audience a huge disservice. In the absence of clear preparation and practice, all your audience will really hear is more noise. How could they possibly hear anything else if you haven’t very carefully, mindfully and creatively crafted and practiced your presentation?
Never make the excuse that you are too busy. Either find the time to prepare and practice or give the task to someone else who will.
Craft your content, don’t just prepare it. A couple of years ago I wrote an article called, ‘Presentation Content is King — getting it wrong can ruin a conference’ in which I said:
“Every presentation has to begin with the end in mind.
How do you want your audience to feel when you’re done?
What tangible difference do you aim to make to their life or their business?
What can you tell them that will help them that they don’t already know or can easily find out for themselves?”
Be very clear on what your message is and why your audience should care about it.
Know your message and your content inside out. Don’t memorise it, just know it.
Practice the way you deliver it verbally. Pay very close attention to your pitch, pace, rhythm, volume, tone and emphasis. Practice pausing to give your audience time to think, for your message to ‘land’ and for you to breathe.
Practice the way you deliver it physically. Pay very close attention to the way you move your hands, your body, your legs and even your eyes. Be aware of the facial expressions you make, how animated you are and how the way you speak and move adds value to your message and creates the impact you wish to have.
Practicing on your own or in front of the mirror or your dog isn’t enough. Practice in front of someone you trust and be open to honest feedback.
None of these habits are new and of course there are plenty more where these came from. The good news is that they are all avoidable and all it takes is a level of consciousness to recognise them, understand and accept the damage they are doing and make a commitment to avoid them yourself.
Your audience will be eternally grateful.
If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.