Successful presentations work to both capture and sustain audience attention. Speakers usually remember the former, but too often neglect the latter. When speakers focus on what they want to say instead of what they want to accomplish, they cause a “disconnect” that prevents audience engagement. When you recognize some of the most common ways speakers disconnect from their audiences, you can avoid falling into the same traps. Speakers disconnect when:
They spend most of the introduction talking about themselves. I’ve seen some very smart people spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to build their credibility in the introduction. They list degrees, professional designations, and awards. The recite experience, the prestige of their firm and how many offices they have internationally. They may even narrate a condensed version of their career history. Believe me, no one cares. If you’ve made it to the presentation stage, you have the requisite credibility or you wouldn’t be standing there. If the decision-makers in your audience need more information about whether you’re qualified to solve their problem, they’ll ask the questions important to them. Don’t waste valuable presentation time talking about yourself.
They dump information. Information without context is simply data. The information dump is to listeners what spam is to email readers. Don’t provide information just because it’s available. Use it in a supportive role. How does it help you explain your point? If you can’t draw a direct link between the information and the strategic goal of the presentation, omit it. Will you help them save time, money or other resources? Will you improve their health, career or productivity? Will you help them reduce uncertainty, aggravation or frustration? Don’t just tell them your information is valuable or important; explain why. Ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for them?”
They use their slide show as a teleprompter. In his biannual survey of what annoys audiences most about slide shows, PowerPoint guru Dave Paradi reports respondents rank the number one complaint as “The speaker read the slides to us.” Slide shows aren’t teleprompters, even though many people use them this way. Combined with the fact that audiences can typically process information four to five times faster than you can deliver it, simply reading your slides is a recipe for disaster. Slides should support, rather than supplant, your presentation.
They deliver a message filled with distractions. Although good delivery alone cannot guarantee success, poor delivery can usually guarantee failure. Some of the most common culprits are weak eye contact, vocalized pauses such as “uhm” and a monotone delivery that has no variation in pitch, rate or speed. The cumulative effect of several delivery problems can be devastating. People who think what they have to say is so important that they don’t need to make it compelling or interesting are in the greatest danger. Work to become aware of any distracting delivery habits and try to eliminate them from your speech.
They use language that builds walls instead of bridges. Within a particular profession, jargon serves as an economical way to communicate. When used with people outside that linguistic community however, jargon acts as a barrier to understanding. Technical presentations to a lay audience are especially at risk as are explanations that involve complex financial, legal or medical terminology. Choose the words that will best get your point across to your audience. You may sometimes have to sacrifice economy for clarity.
They organize information poorly. Because of the way we process information, we expect to receive it in distinct and patterned ways. When material is presented merely as a “grocery list” of seemingly unrelated pieces of information, an audience will have difficulty seeing the connection. It’s one thing to think in a non-linear fashion. It’s quite another to try to communicate in it.
Use the organizational pattern that best mirrors the mental connections you want the audience to make. For example, if you’re introducing a new policy or change, spend time making the case that a problem with the current situation exists, then offer your policy as a solution. Show how the new policy will solve the problem you’ve identified. If you’re trying to teach someone a skill, a sequential organization pattern makes it easier to remember.
Shift your focus from “me” to “we.” When you concentrate on the needs, beliefs and priorities of your audience, you’ll be more successful making your message clear. That increases your chances of getting the business.
©2012 Peak Communication Performance. Excerpted from Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Download the first chapter at www.RainMakingPresentations.com. When you create more persuasive presentations, you’ll discover why better communication means more business. Affluent’s Presentation Expert, Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D., shows professionals how to design, develop and deliver presentations that win you the business. Contact him at Sommerville@RainMakingPresentations.com.