Presentation Skills – Five Myths That Will Hurt You

Most people dread giving presentations and with good reason. It’s a skill that requires knowledge and practice. Like driving a car, knowing how to drive isn’t the same as having actual driving experience.

Instead of learning and practicing by taking a course or joining an organization like Toastmasters, many people try to “wing it” by relying on several escape clauses. Unfortunately they don’t work and these myths will get you in trouble.

Myth #1 – “I’m Not a Public Speaker”

Many people think that these words will buy them the forgiveness of the audience. This type of excuse should really be replaced with “Visiting your dentist is more pleasant than what I’m about to present.”

A recent advocate for a mental health organization started her presentation with “I’m not a public speaker.” From that point on the presentation became increasingly more painful. She was disorganized, rambling, monotone and spoke twice as long as needed.

The objective of the presentation was to recruit people to join their organization. The organization does fine work, but after this presentation not even the experienced mental health professionals wanted to join.

Myth #2 – “I Don’t Make Presentations”

This is a variation of the first myth. Here people use their profession as an excuse not to be a good presenter. Even if you’re not making formal presentations, you’re probably attending meetings. The ability to present your ideas clearly, concisely and persuasively is invaluable.

Terry Daily, a vice-president with a Fortune 100 company, started his career as an accountant. He felt he wasn’t that good at presenting and wanted to be better, so Terry took the time to learn how to present. Part of his career success he credits to his ability to communicate his ideas successfully.

Myth #3 – “I Can Do That”

These are the words of amateurs. Solid presenters make it look easy; the audience never sees all the hard work put into the presentation. As a result, people feel they should be presenting. While they might do a semi-credible job, they often lack the content and the delivery skills.

At a three-day seminar with many presenters, it was abundantly clear that the notion of copying what someone else did was the fashionable thing to do. Experienced presenters never try to be someone else in either content or delivery.

One speaker talked about SMART goals, a fairly commonly referred to acronym used for goal setting. He proudly displayed smart for the letter S. Unfortunately for him, that’s not what the S represents. At the first break, several people left because they picked up on this rookie mistake. This presenter hadn’t even bothered to look it up on the internet, which would have taken less than a minute.

Myth #4 – My Audience Wants to Know Everything I Know

Inexperienced presenters try to cram everything into their presentations. Audiences quickly become overwhelmed by the information and no longer know what’s important and what is not. It’s your job as the speaker to sort through and present only the relevant information.

If you’re having a conversation with your friends, then changing subjects constantly and going on tangents is fine. It is not when you’re delivering a formal presentation or sharing your ideas in a meeting.

Organization is key and even many experienced presenters fail to deliver this important ingredient in their presentations. It takes discipline and experience to figure out and limit yourself to an interesting opening, three key points with supporting material, and a call to action.

Myth #5 – PowerPointitus

Some people have described this as “death by PowerPoint.” It’s the crack cocaine of presentations everywhere. People are addicted to it.

There are organizations that require people to have their ideas in PowerPoint, even for five minute presentations. It’s a waste of time, energy and effort. If you can’t present your ideas successfully for a five minute presentation, PowerPoint won’t solve the problem.

The addiction to PowerPoint is compounded by the need to have handouts with a copy of every slide. The idea behind this is to make sure “you have it.” It doesn’t seem to matter that often the font size is too small to read. Then the presenter “kills” the presentation by reading out loud every slide word-for-word, while you have it on the screen and in front of you in the handout. At this point there is no need for any presentation. You could just take the materials away and read them.

As one senior manager at a major company points out, “I don’t have time to go through people’s 30 page decks and approve the presentation. It’s just too much detail. People need to figure out to whom they’re presenting and what the audience wants to know.”

Now you know some of the presentation myths that can hurt you. Just by avoiding these traps, you’ll automatically come across as a much better presenter.

Which Is Most Important In Your Resume – Content or Presentation?

“I’m well qualified. I have extensive experience. Why does no one ever call me for an interview?”

I’m hearing this a lot these days, but I saw it in action recently at a job fair. Employers and Recruitment Agencies go to job fairs looking for qualified people, and qualified people go to job fairs to find jobs, so it should be a great place to match them up – but that isn’t always the case.

I watched people at the booths talk to candidates with interest, receive their resumes, glance at them, and put them away for filing; I even talked to a few of them. “Yes, she’s a great candidate,” the interviewer would say, “Excellent experience, but I doubt if she’ll get a call.” More questions elicited the observation that her Resume would get lost in the pile.

Like many aspects of twenty-first century life job-hunting is increasingly about presentation. Perhaps this is why older candidates with substantial experience are being passed over. Their Resume’s list solid achievements and experience, but employers wonder if they have the verve and willingness to learn the new media so that they can contribute and compete. In a world of headlines, tweets, video blogs and other technologies that focus on the brief and startling, the conventional resume is at a disadvantage.

A friend of mine conducted an experiment for me. Chrystal had formal qualifications, some experience, and was doing well at her job, but was interested in moving on. We went to a job fair in Minneapolis with two versions of her resume – her original resume and a revamped version which she was worried was ‘too flashy’ and not informative enough – and she went around the booths talking to people, and passing out one version of her Resume. In each case the original version was well-received and politely set aside, but the new version received enthusiastic responses each time she handed it over, and ultimately each of the interview calls she received came from the new version.

You may think, with Chrystal, that an eye-grabbing resume might work for creative positions, but surely not for professions like accounting or management, but the reality seems to be that it does work.

What are some of the techniques that can make your resume stand out? Graphics, Testimonials, and highlighting skills rather than qualifications. If your old resume is not bringing in calls for an interview, why not try redesigning it to include some logos and quotes today?

Tips for Presenting With Authority

It is not unusual to feel vulnerable about standing up to speak. The trick to delivering a successful speech or presentation is to create a perception of confidence to make your audience feel that you are in charge (irrespective of how you are actually feeling at the time).

Take your time
Think about the most powerful or influential speakers you’ve heard. As a general rule they will speak very slowly. This is actually very easy, and a great trick to earn yourself the confidence of the room. Barrack Obama speaks very slowly, and very clearly. His audience knows that he doesn’t need to rush; that he’s in control of the situation, and taking it at his own pace. Not only does it make the process of public speaking easier, it also simply sounds more controlled. And it’s easier to take-in what he’s saying.

Use your hands
Moving them doesn’t just help illustrate your point. It also helps release nervous energy, enabling you to speak more confidently.

Print your speech or presentation onto cue cards
Partly, this is useful for the simple reason that a cue card is smaller than a sheet of A4. However, actually the biggest thing you gain from having cue cards is the confidence they inspire in both you and your audience. From the audience’s perspective, you have clearly prepared for the speech you are giving; you have approached it in a professional way, and seemingly have done this before. From your own perspective, having the cards there at all will remind you that you are equipped to deliver this speech. Psychologically, this puts the ball in your court.

Hold your cue cards at about chest level and about half a foot in front of you
This way, when you look up at the audience, your speech will still be in your eye-line. You should not be presenting something purely by looking down at a piece of paper. Look up. Make sure the audience know that they’re your focal point; that they’re what’s important to you. When you watch a speech by somebody doing nothing more than looking down and reading from their notes, you can’t help but think they may as well just hand the piece of paper out and request half an hour’s silence for everybody to get up to speed. The reason they are watching a person, rather than reading a sheet of paper, is because they want someone to talk to them, to engage with them; someone in whom they can have confidence.

Glance, don’t read
You don’t have to know it word for word, but you certainly should only be presenting something to a room full of people, if you’ve practiced it beforehand. Speaking slowly enough to give you time to glance down at your notes between sound-bites will make a huge difference.

You may be shaking during the speech; you may even be terrified. However, what you must not be is miserable. Or, at least, you mustn’t look it. A frowning speaker is a reluctant speaker; someone out of their depths, perhaps. Nothing gets you the respect of a room like standing in front of 50, 60, 100 people and simply smiling back at them. Socially, it shows the audience that they’re in for a good time. Professionally, it shows you’ve got all the answers. Put it this way, if you were looking to buy a fridge-freezer from two men; one of whom was smiling and the other of whom was crying, who would get your business?

Perform a little
Pick relevant people to look in the eyes. If you’re talking about the company director, and he’s in the room, then look at him! You don’t need to bound round the stage, yelping, to get people’s attention. But you also won’t be interesting to watch simply standing still. These little touches can make the difference between a good presentation and a great one.

I hope you find these tips useful. Please call me on +44 20 8245 8999 if you would like help preparing for your next speech or presentation.