August 6, 2014
by Andy Saks
If you’ve ever watched a presentation, you’ve probably observed first-hand at least one annoying presentation habit, something the speaker did or said repeatedly that distracted you from the information he or she delivered.
I call these habits “presentation irritations.” Like a lone scratch on a beautiful car’s paint job, they can mar an otherwise-perfect delivery. And once your brain’s antenna has locked into that habit, you tend to keep noticing it. Every time it appears. Until it’s ALL you notice.
So what irritation annoys you the most? Bad jokes? Mumbling? Crazy eyes?
In 2014, Distinction Communication Inc. conducted its annual survey of clients, partners, prospects and communicators around the world. According to the survey, the single most common irritation audiences experience with presenters is…
By which I mean: placing long passages of text on notecards or slides, and then reading them verbatim to your audience.
This isn’t just annoying; audiences voted it THE MOST ANNOYING presentation and public speaking habit on the planet (even more annoying than putting “the most annoying” in all caps).
No shock there, eh? I bet you’re nodding and cringing in painful agreement.
Why is reading such a widely-reviled habit?
1. IT IMPLIES POOR PREPARATION.
Reading makes your audience assume you don’t know your stuff. That’s a terribly deflating discovery, as they likely invested their valuable time in your speech assuming you would.
2. IT MAKES YOUR SLIDES THE STARS OF YOUR SHOW.
Reading slides tells your audience, “My slides are the real presenters, they have all the information.” Now your slides are the stars, and you’re their sidekick. That’s backwards.
3. IT’S BORING TO WATCH.
Unless you’re a children’s librarian dramatically reciting a kid’s book to a group of three-year-olds and using different character voices, chances are you’re reading your audience to sleep. (I have a new respect for librarians after taking my three-year-old to story time.)
4. IT MAKES YOU TURN YOUR BACK ON YOUR AUDIENCE.
Reading your slides makes you turn around to face your screen. When you do, you are literally turning your back on the people you’re there to serve. That’s bad mojo, and it makes them feel irrelevant.
5. IT’S COUNTER-PRODUCTIVE.
Here’s the biggest reason: research at the University of New South Wales shows that when your audience reads your slides along with you (and they will) as they listen to you read out loud, they actually absorb, process, understand and remember LESS content. So the practice of reading hurts the practice of presenting effectively.
In short, you are squandering a golden opportunity to connect directly and personally with your audience, to share something special of yourself.
Don’t read. It’s bad.
In case you were wondering, rounding out the list of top presentation irritations is:
2. Frequent “um”s and “ah”s
3. Lack of eye contact / wandering eyes
4. Pacing and other “nervous” movement
5. Distracting hand gestures
6. Using a lectern (often called a “podium”)
If you have a habit of reading from notes or slides, how do you break it?
It may seem scary at first, but the more you free yourself from reading, make eye contact with your audience, and phrase your words on the fly (as you do every day in one-on-one conversation), the more you’ll enjoy presenting, and the more your audience will enjoy your presentation.
These non-reading presentation tips should get you started:
1. BURN YOUR NOTECARDS AND DELETE YOUR SLIDE TEXT.
The first step to breaking a bad habit is removing the temptation. You may still occasionally write out and read short items that must be delivered verbatim to ensure accuracy, like quotes and long titles.
2. MASTER YOUR CONTENT.
You don’t have to know every angle of every tidbit of information you deliver. But you should have a basic understanding of what you’re talking about. If you don’t, it’s time to research, review, rehearse, repeat.
Get used to delivering while making eye contact with your audience. Teach your brain to retrieve your information from memory. The more you practice, the better you get, the more you enjoy it.
Email me if you want more specific help. And enjoy giving presentations that are more valuable and fun for everyone.
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ABOUT SPARK PRESENTATIONS
Spark Presentations is a private company founded in 1998 that provides presentation skills training and speech coaching for executives, salespeople, marketers and other businesspeople, plus booth staff training for trade show exhibitors.
Spark also books professional presenters and public speakers to represent its clients at high-profile events as keynote speakers, trade show booth presenters, masters of ceremonies (emcee) and live auctioneers.
Spark’s owner, Andy Saks, is also the author of The Presentation Playbook Series: Be a Most Valuable Presenter (MVP), a three-volume series of books that help businesspeople master common presentation situations by building and running speaking “plays” like a coach or player calls a key play in a game. Volume 1 is available now in print and PDF formats on Spark’s website and at these online retailers and formats: Amazon print, Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks and Barnes & Noble print and Nook.
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