Still More Tips to Avoid Presentation Disasters
Over the last couple of weeks, I have offered several suggestions for how to give an impactful presentation and avoid the disasters often inflicted on audiences. So far, I’ve covered the importance of knowing your audience and being authentic, as well as dressing the part and focusing on your opening remarks.
In this, the third installment in my series of articles on this topic, I’ll confess to a costly mistake I made early in my speaking career. But first, let me offer two tips that are easy to implement when you deliver a presentation.
The importance of gestures
Gestures are important. They help you articulate your message. They also convey strong signals to your audience.
Every speaker wants to be taken seriously and perceived as authoritative. The right gestures are critical. Think about the gestures of Donald Trump and Marco Rubio. Trump is often pictured with his hands spread wide from his side, his palms open and facing his audience. While on the campaign trial, Rubio was far more restricted in his hand movement. He kept his hands clasped in front him and his elbows close to his sides.
Who do you perceive as more powerful?
Someone once told me, “Powerful people take up more space.” That’s true of speakers as well.
If you haven’t seen this TED Talk by Amy Cuddy on the impact of gestures, I highly recommend you watch it before your next presentation.
Speakers are effective when they relate to the audience. But how do you achieve “relatability”?
Some speakers make the mistake of confusing relatability with perfection. They take great care in choosing their clothes. Their presentation aids are brilliantly designed. They have rehearsed their speech many times, so it flows effortlessly. The package is perfect.
Unfortunately, they don’t connect with the audience.
Research shows that we find it easiest to relate to people who are like us. In one highly publicized study, participants listened to recordings of other participants taking a quiz and rated them for “likeability.” The study found that people who did well on the quiz and spilled coffee at the end of the interview were rated more likeable than other participants who did well on the quiz but didn’t spill coffee. Spilling coffee “humanized” the person in the interview.
I’m not suggesting you trip and fall on your face prior to starting your presentation. But if you stumble with some of your words, show nervousness or even lose your train of thought, your audience will understand. They’ll probably enjoy your talk more than they would if it were “perfect.”
Not all “stories” have the same impact
Much has been written about the “power” of storytelling. It’s true that, if used correctly, telling stories is a powerful weapon in your presentation arsenal. Here’s the problem:
Many speakers don’t differentiate between telling stories about themselves and telling stories about others. I was one of those speakers. I used to begin my talks by telling the story of my professional journey and what led me to do the research culminating in the publication of my book, The Smartest Sales Book You’ll Ever Read.
I thought my audience would relate my story to their experience, and it would thus enhance my credibility. When I read the feedback forms from talks I started this way, I realized I was wrong. No one cared about my journey. They were interested in theirs.
I continue to tell stories, but they are always about other advisors. I relate real-life examples of how conversion rates improve when advisors follow what I call “evidence-based persuasion.” The difference has been seismic.
The key to an effective presentation is keeping the focus on the audience. Your listeners have an agenda. Your job is to be sensitive to that agenda and to provide information that helps them achieve their goals.
Focusing on you impedes that objective.
This commentary originally appeared April 26 on AdvisorPerspectives.com
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