I have often written on here about the need to prepare for an effective presentation. It is a mantra I urge every professional stepping up to the podium to adopt! However, in this blog I am going to consider the disadvantages of being too prepared.
That’s an oxymoron right? Well yes, but no! I stand by the need to be prepared – always – but there is a great deal to be said for not being ‘scripted’. By this I mean the process of diligently putting the work in to a presentation only to deliver it, verbatim, often reading large sections from the page (because you’ve done the prep so it’s all there).
On one level you have achieved your goal. On another level you have failed. Why? Because your scripted presentation lacks the oomph that’s needed to engage your audience. It’s one dimensional and lacking in an essential ingredient – a bit of edge.
What Many Presentations Lack is Edge
What do I mean by edge? In a nutshell; a flash of charisma, a little pinch of spontaneity and an endearing glimpse of personality. While this combination may sound like a recipe lifted straight from a Mary Poppins musical number, it serves to illustrate what is lacking in an effective presentation laid out on the page – a bit of you.
Public speaking can be a terrifying process, but it gets easier the more you do it. To this I will also add that the more you do it, the more you need to test yourself in order to train your speaking style and optimise your impact. By nature most of us are happy to seek out our comfort zone and refrain from stepping too far outside it.
Yet the human body is well equipped for dealing with the stresses of a shock to the system. We have all been in situations of stress and rather than meltdown, some kind of super sense kicks in and we rise to a challenge with a calmness and clarity that we did not know we were capable of.
So I urge you to consider leaving your comfort zone, with giant leaps or baby steps, and bring a bit of edge into your game. It will probably scare the living daylights out of you at first, but I promise you a rich sense of achievement as a result. Here are some suggestions to help you find that extra bit of edge.
How to Present Effectively: Find an Edge
- Ditch the Presentation for Cue Cards
With the exception of anybody presenting in a second language, reading your presentation from the page is bad. Reading it from the page while displaying the exact same presentation on a Powerpoint slide is inexcusable (over a third of office workers have admitted to snoozing through a PPP!).Instead pick out key points and bullet them on cue cards – small enough to fit in your hands.
- Trust your Knowledge
If you have been commissioned to do a presentation it is because you know your stuff (if you don’t then I refer you back to my default recommendation of do your preparation). If you have done the prep have the confidence in your knowledge and use your cue cards to talk around the topic. The thought provokes stress for many, but consider this: If you were to strip away the occasion and deliver the same material, one on one or in a discussion with a group of friends, you would have no problem talking , animatedly and at length, on a subject you know well. So just channel that thought for an effective presentation…
- Trust Your Audience and Know This:
They don’t willingly want you to fail. b) They want to be engaged. c) A number of them will be wishing they had the confidence to do what you’re doing.
- Don’t Forget to Engage Your Audience
Use your body language to good effect. Make eye contact with the room and use gestures to emphasise or punctuate points and draw inspiration from personal experience. If you can find an illustration from life, a bit of realia to bring to the mix, then do it. Telling a story is the best way to break down formal barriers but it also allows you to stray from the comfort zone in a controlled way.
- Be Afraid (but enjoy it!)
Having the confidence to cut the safety rope and throw caution to the wind requires a large leap of faith, but you only need to do it once. If it all goes terribly wrong, then at least you’ve done it. But it’s more likely to be far less painful than you thought, and the rewards for overcoming such an obstacle are huge in terms of your skills to be an effective presenter.