Presentation Myths

There’s lots of advice out there if you are preparing to give a speech or make a presentation.  Here are 8 myths you should avoid:

You need a funny opening.

While it is true that you need to get attention and hold attention in the beginning of a presentation, it doesn’t require you be funny.  In fact, a good rule is never start with a joke or funny remark unless you are very familiar with the audience.  If you want to hold the audience’s attention, tell them something that will make their job easier, or make them more money, or make them look better in their boss’s eyes.  You will own the rapt attention of the audience when you do that.  You don’t need no stinking jokes.

Always start by thanking everyone, giving introductions and reviewing the agenda.

The audience has a limited attention span and will start to listen with only one ear after a minute or so. If that’s the case, why waste that valuable time by doing all of those housekeeping things you can do later in the presentation?  Get to the main issue as fast as you can and worry about introductions later.  Likewise, I always laugh when a speaker starts off by saying “how excited” he is to be speaking to the group.  He doesn’t look excited. He doesn’t sound excited. And the audience doesn’t believe a word of that babble anyhow.  Start with the presentation’s takeaway.  That’s what the audience wants to hear.

PowerPoint slides should be filled with visuals

Research indicates that visuals helps people get the message.  I challenge exactly what kinds of visuals that might mean.  Graphs, flow charts and organizational charts certainly help people see things better.  But, does a clip-art cartoon of a man with his head buried in the beach to correspond with the headline “Don’t bury your head in the sand” achieve anything?  It adds nothing and detracts considerably.  Serious business people should never use clip-art.  Photos and illustrations can be helpful, especially if they demonstrate a point.  For example, when Apple said its new lap top was the thinnest in the world, having a photo of the lap top slipping into a manila envelope did a great service by demonstrating it.

“I’m Not a Born Presenter”

Charismatic speakers are powerful up on the stage. The audience loves them and buys whatever it is they are selling.  These powerful speakers often dissuade the rest of us presenters from trying hard because “we weren’t born with the gift of gab.”   But a study at Harvard indicates that charisma can be taught, and that by incorporating body language techniques into your presentation, you can be perceived as charismatic, as well.  Imagine how much more powerful you will be as a speaker when you are able to use these techniques successfully.

Saying filler words like um and ah will ruin your presentation.

Here’s my pet peeve. Someone somewhere declared that you have ruined your presentation if you utter a non-word like “ah” or “um”.  And, certainly if your speech if filled with repetitive words or repetitive non-words that’s not good.  If you use any word or expression so much that the audience is counting, you need to stop it immediately.  But, using an occasional “ah” or “um” is perfectly fine.  What isn’t fine is that some less experienced speakers believe that they have ruined their presentation when a non-word slips out of their mouth. That’s not the case.  No one noticed. No one cares except the speech police.

Speak slow and distinctly.

Every presentation course I ever took underscored the need to speak slowly and distinctly.  Obviously, it is important to be heard, so speaking clearly is key.  However, new research on the subject reveals that people are accustomed to listening to their friends speak at a fairly fast clip, so talking quickly is not damaging.  Speaking too slowly can send out negative vibes to the audience.  The audience occasionally needs to catch its breath.  Pausing every once in a while in a presentation is helpful for all concerned.

Beware of over-rehearsing.

One of the more common excuses that people site for not rehearsing is the fear of over-rehearsing. But, it’s all a lame excuse.  Rehearsal is good and more rehearsal is better, as long as you aren’t rehearsing your presentation word for word. Not rehearsing becomes evident in a second as people fumble about, speak for twice as long as they need and generally make a spectacle of themselves.  If over-rehearsing hurt the performance, would basketball players, for example,  practice their game and specific plays constantly?  They may play 4 games in a row but then they show up for practice the next day.  It’s a crime if you have put in a great deal of time developing the content of a presentation to then not spend another good hunk of time to practice giving it.

The audience is waiting to pounce on any mistake.

Have you ever been in the audience when someone is making a presentation and doing poorly?  You don’t rejoice in that, do you?  In fact, a poor presenter makes everyone in the audience squirm.  We want you to do well and entertain us. We want to learn from you.  We want you to be a star.  Most of the time people look the other way when mistakes happen.



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