Are your business presentations persuasive? Do your listeners remember and act on your message?
If not, perhaps you are following conventional wisdom. The problem with conventional wisdom is it is often irrelevant, out of date or just plain wrong.
Myths you can ignore
Here are some widely held presentation myths that you would do well to ignore:
Tell them three times
There is an old saw for presenters that says you should first tell your audience what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you told them.
This might have worked in our great-grandfathers’ time, when people were less educated and had longer attention spans.
If you tell a modern audience the same thing three times, they will feel insulted. Don’t treat your audience like children. If you feel your message is so complicated that you need to repeat yourself, you need to simplify your message instead.
You need a rich, resonant voice
This is true only if you are a radio personality. Instead, a good business presenter has a voice with three qualities:
1. It is loud enough to be heard. If your voice isn’t loud enough, use a microphone.
2. It is clear enough to be understood. This is not a problem for most people (see articulation, below).
3. It is enthusiastic. A monotone is boring. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you don’t sound excited about your message, why should your audience care about it?
Provided you are loud enough, clear enough and enthusiastic, your natural voice is probably just fine.
You must articulate clearly
It is OK if you slur some words together or drop a letter here and there, so long as your audience understands you. Don’t try to sound like a radio announcer speaking the Queen’s English if you have a certain accent.
Be yourself. Your audience wants to connect with you as an individual. They know a phony when they hear one.
Moreover, you don’t want to sound like everyone else has been taught to sound. If you sound like the crowd, you will be perceived as a commodity. You want to sound like yourself — unique.
You need more polish
A business audience is sceptical, critical and hard-nosed. They have strong opinions and are not easily sold.
Making better eye contact and smoother gestures will not make much difference to them if they don’t like your message.
Gestures, body language and other niceties of delivery style are like polish. Polish can add a bit more shine to something that is already shiny, but it cannot bring lustre to something that is inherently dull.
A discriminating audience is looking for content, not merely a slick delivery.
You need great visual aids
Most presenters use slides and other visual aids as a crutch. They show a slide and read what’s on it. Your audience could just read the slides themselves, making you redundant.
In many cases, you may not need visual aids at all. The most compelling visuals are the mental images you evoke in the minds of your listeners through metaphors, examples and stories.
Your audience is interested in your message
Most presenters assume their audience is enriched by their presentation.
This is a dangerous assumption to make. Chances are some (if not most) of the people listening to you are only there because they have to be.
They may not agree with you, they may not want to hear you, and they have other things on their mind.
They are doing you a favour by giving you some of their valuable time and possibly some of their limited attention.
You need to give them something they value in return. And you need to let them know you are offering value from the very beginning or you will quickly lose them.
Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse
You don’t have to practise very much. This is a business presentation, not a soliloquy from Shakespeare.
You won’t be perfect, and you don’t need to be. You just need to master the material.
Mastering the material means being able to discuss it comfortably and convincingly. Your audience expects you to be in command of the subject matter you are presenting. This does not mean memorising.
Having said that, you should memorise your opening because it must grab the attention of your audience.
You should also memorise the call to action in your conclusion because it is too important to make it up on the spot.
In between your memorised opening and closing lines is the meat of your presentation. Work from a carefully structured outline, but be flexible.
Most presenters buy these myths. They try to look, sound and present like other good presenters.
They strive to be plain vanilla. Vanilla is popular. Vanilla is safe. But it isn’t memorable. If your message isn’t memorable, your presentation has failed.