Sometimes it’s just easier to reduce life down to a collection of catchy little one-liners or helpful hints. That’s certainly no truer than in the world of presenting. Presentation “experts” dole this stuff out on a regular basis so I thought I would take on a few of these and hold them up to the light of day…
1) Tell ‘em what you’ll tell ‘em – Tell ‘em – Tell ‘em what you told them.
Like many old axioms, there’s a morsel of truth but it gets lost in the application. First, simple repetition (or repeated exposure to something) only means you run the real risk of honking off an audience because you make them feel like children. And secondly, just the habit of repeating something is no guarantee people will remember and here’s why.
Years ago researchers tested the whole idea of repetitive impressions on recall. I’ve repeated this fun little test in some of my coaching workshops. I get two people up and put them in front of flip charts. Then I ask them to draw (in as much detail as possible) the front and back of a penny. They’ve obviously had tens of thousands of repeated exposures to those images. But true to the research, very few can even get close in their drawings. (Researchers called this “incidental exposure”) Why? Because impressions (and ideas) must be relevant & meaningful to be remembered.
The real point:
Repetition is only effective in recall if the message itself resonates with personal needs/issues. If the presenter’s message is self-serving (like many are), then there is little chance anyone will care what you say no matter how many times you may say it. Even worse, put that point in the form of bullets or raw data and recall will be even more adversely impacted. Why? Because intellectual material is processes on the left side of the brain which generally only supports short-term memory.
2) Audiences can be pretty tough so you need to prepare harder
It’s no picnic for an audience when anxious presenters shuffle around in front of them while playing with their laptop computers. But know this, audiences want you to succeed! “But Jim, they don’t look very happy to be here.” The problem may have little to do with them and everything to do with your own mirror.
I learned a while back that my 3 month old granddaughter, Avery, reflects what I give her. If I smile, she smiles. If I have a sour look on my face – she frowns. If presenters could only see the intense, furled brow expressions that camp on their faces while they are thinking hard what to say next. Then they’d understand why their audiences look so unfriendly. Don’t believe me? Watch yourself on video.
The real point:
Audiences give back what they get from you. One of bigger challenges we have as coaches is simply trying to get a presenter to be a warmer human being in front of a group. And when there are a few sour faces looking back at you, don’t take it personally. A fight with the spouse or a traffic ticket on the way to your presentation is all it takes to change their mood. An important message to presenters… it’s not always about you. Audiences come with their own lives.
3) Better presentation software will make me a better presenter
In the general presentations community, there’s a reoccurring push for “serious” presenters (and designers) to move to Apple’s Keynote software. Everyone is looking for an edge and I get that. But I have a question. Why is it I can see really bad presentations produced in Keynote and yet to this day, see beautiful and effective visual communication tools come out of PowerPoint 2000 – a 10-year old software product?
The answer is… (and always will be) this important truth. Talented and creative people will make works of communication art no matter what canvas they’re using. And the vast majority of everyone else will continue to look for the next trendy tool to give them an edge but you will always be able to tell the difference. Form never trumps substance when it comes to presentations.
The real point:
No one will ever be able to make a common sense wizard. There’s nothing wrong with Apple’s Keynote or other higher-end presentation tools. But I learned a long time ago a very painful (and expensive) reality… I can buy expensive Titleist Pro V1 golf balls and still not hit them like Phil Michelson. And the only ones who seem to benefit from my purchase are the folks in the golf pro shop.