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The High Cost of Being Average

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Most people bristle at that word… average.

Average customer service.  A movie that’s just ‘ok’.  Sushi that’s palatable. You’ve got to admit, none of these things sounds very appealing.

But when ‘average’ gets applied to the people who present to us, there can be a much more significant impact.  Great ideas never see the light of day.  Amazing products don’t get traction.  Promising careers flounder.  Leaders fail to inspire and next year’s budget proposal fails miserably to foster much buy-in from stakeholders.

In any discussion about getting through to the busy and distracted people in our lives, there seems to be one very important truth. The world is not a very rewarding place for those who are just average in their personal presentation skills.

So, how do you want to be perceived?

Here’s what we’ve most often heard when we’ve asked this question in our workshops.

Engaging.  Knowledgeable. Passionate.  Authentic. Trustworthy.
Believable.  Credible.   Memorable.  Competent.

We seem to get the same variation of these words nearly every time.  But the one word we have yet to hear in 20 years of asking the question,  I’d like to be… “average.”

Instinctively we know if we are to be one of the few voices people actually remember at the end of a very long day, it will most likely take a skill set that pushes us out of our old habits and our personal comfort zone.

So to help you on your own journey in this area, I want to offer up a bit of insight gleaned from having worked with Fortune 100 execs to small start-ups. Product managers to entry level sales people.

1) You need to have the kind of message that quickly establishes it’s relevance to people’s lives.  And although you think you have 30-minutes to make that case, don’t kid yourself.  Research shows you have just seconds for audiences to form a first impression of you and a fleeting few minutes to make your message stick in their busy hearts and minds.

People are forming 1st impressions, not in 5-10 minutes,
but 5-10 seconds.

Blink, Malcolm Gladwell. Nalini Ambady Research


2) Those messages often turn into some sort of visual illustration.  And for most people, that means PowerPoint. Follow your instincts here however (more must be more), and you’ll play right into audiences’ #1 complaint of presenters these days.

Together, messaging and visuals represent “what” we want to communicate.


3) Then we have your observable personal delivery skills – the “how” part of communication.  And for most presenters, that personal toolkit of skills has changed very little since your high school or college days.  Here old habits hang on for dear life.

Presenting has really evolved. Presenters… ahh, not so much.

But before you move on from this whole ‘how’ category, think back on the one-word perception exercise.  Do you see the connection?  Don’t miss it.

Nearly every word people typically use to describe how they want to be perceived has nothing to do with “what” you’re saying (think PowerPoint), but nearly always is a reflection of “how” you’re communicating those messages – the relational skills of interacting with an audience and the conduit for all you say.


Being the kind of presenter (and leader) who sets themselves apart as a strong communicator means we are intentional with all three areas but especially delivery. We avoid the temptation of autopilot presenting and we acknowledge the profound need to give up the mundane for the exceptional when it comes to how we present ourselves and our ideas.

But most of all, it takes a measure of courage to see yourselves through the eyes of your audience. No one likes seeing themselves on video, but as a tool for creating meaningful change to old presentation habits, it’s essential.

Maybe it’s time to aspire to something more than average.


Exploring your world:

Perceptions  – What list of perceptions would you and your team use for how you want others to perceive you?

What vs. how  – What % of your planning time is being invested in the what vs. how?

How  – How do your teams practically attempt to take your personal delivery skills to the next level?   How is it working for you?