When it is your turn to get up and give a presentation, you need to show your audience that you are in control and in charge. However, sometimes events get in the way and we let our bad habits that we have accumulated over the years take over. These bad habits are probably going to at least disrupt* your presentation, maybe even ruin it if you don’t take steps to get rid of them.
Here are some of the bad habits to be aware of and for which you should take steps to banish.
1 DON’T START WITH A SORRY
You might be running late; the computer does not accept your USB stick with your presentation on it, (it happened to me only recently!); the projector does not work; you don’t have the right material with you…
Given that you are probably someone polite and well brought up*, you will probably apologise. However, this sets up a negative tone and puts you on the defensive from the outset*. It will also give the impression that either you don’t know what you are doing, or are not very well organised – neither of which are what you want. It could also make you even more flustered* and have an impact on the rest of your presentation – which hasn’t even started yet!
What to do
Always have a Plan B, (even a Plan c). If you get there before everyone, you can check that everything works as it should, and if it doesn’t, then you have time to put your back-up plan* into place without anyone being any the wiser. Remain positive, upbeat and unflustered and this will feed into the audience. Someone who is seen as being cool under pressure is someone to be respected and trusted.
2 DON’T ADMIT YOU ARE SCARED
Most public speakers get nervous, even those who are used to it. It is perfectly normal. But your audience does not care, nor want to know, that you are scared.
Just as starting with an apology can negate any confidence in you, so to can admitting that you are nervous. Even saying so will probably just add to your stress levels. Admitting it will certainly not help to calm you down. And you will be letting your audience know to expect a poor presentation – and nobody wants that.
What to do
Unless you are talking to a group of heavy-hitters in your industry or high flyers, (in which case you can make a joke out of the fact that you’re apprehensive by complimenting them and saying you are honoured to be in their presence – such as award winners at the Oscars often do), don’t admit that you are scared. Once your presentation starts and you get on a roll* your nerves will settle down*. And, as always, the more preparation and practice you undertake, the less nervous you will need to be.
If you want more information about how to control your nerves, I have written a separate blog piece.
3 DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON PEOPLE
It is built into us to face wherever action, light or sound is coming from; (just look at people in a bar if there is a TV playing or someone walks in through the door – they will turn to watch even if they don’t want to). And if you are doing a presentation, your presentation visuals are likely to be behind you. If you are writing on a white board, you will probably feel that you will have to turn to face the board just so you can write properly. But by turning your back on your audience, not only is it perceived as being rude, (even if you don’t mean it to be), you are also given those present licence to switch off, talk amongst themselves and lose their concentration. And it is often difficult to get them back to where they were.
What to do
If at all possible, only glance* at your notes; (you should know what you are going to be saying and what comes next, anyway), and set things up so that your screen is in front of you. Make a point of remembering to face your audience. Besides which, if you have followed the advice of keeping any written text on the slides to the absolute minimum, you won’t need to look down or away to read it.
If you are using a white board, try practicing writing side on rather than facing the board so you can keep looking at your audience while you are writing or illustrating on the board.
4 DON’T TALK TOO FAST
This is probably related somewhat to bad habit number 2. I know that I can be guilty* of it, although I have practiced enough to be pretty sure that it is no longer the case.
You might also have a lot to cover and not enough time to do it in. In either case, you could well find yourself talking too fast and therefore hiding the points that you have spent so long preparing from getting across.
What to do
If it is nerves, remind yourself to slow down by wiring ‘SLOW DOWN’ on your notes! Practice speaking slowly when you are talking to others so you know how to do it, and that you can do it.
If it is because you have got too much information, cut out what are the least important parts.
Whenever you are giving any sort of presentation, or speaking in public, there is often a sacrifice to be made about what is not being said or has to be left out, and it is part of your duty to be the editor.
5 DON’T FIDGET OR MOVE TOO MUCH
Playing with your pen, turning your ring round and round, twisting your hair around your finger again and again…many of us have ways of fidgeting that we are not aware of. However, it is a bad habit because, although it might seem to calm us down when we are nervous, our audience is likely to concentrate on the fidgeting* and become distracted by it. And if they are distracted, they are not concentrating on what we are saying.
The same is true if we walk up and down the room too much. It is a good idea to move around, but not always the same path like a captured animal in a poor zoo, and not to a fixed rhythm than will hypnotise the people in the room with you.
What to do
When you are rehearsing*, have someone there give you feedback on your movements so you are aware of them and have time to train yourself out of them. For example, if you are someone who twists their hair, have something else, like a pen, in your hands so you can’t do it. And if you can’t have someone present, use modern technology to film yourself so you can see how you actually come across. (In fact, this is a good idea just generally).
6 DON’T READ FROM YOUR NOTES OR SLIDES
In either case, it is bad. I am sure we have all had the experience of sitting through a presentation and the presenter has not only not looked at us, (they can’t if they are reading), but read exactly what is on the screen. It is both boring and insulting.
Most of the time, if I am in a presentation as an audience member, it means that I am able to read for myself what is up on the screen. For now, I don’t need someone to do it for me. Unless the font is too small, (in which case, change the font so everyone in the room can read it), you should give me, and the other audience members, the benefit of the doubt and not read to me. I can do it for myself. Ideally, your slides should just be a signpost about what you are going to be discussing.
And if you are reading your notes, you can’t look at your audience, your voice will probably be robotic and therefore very boring, and you will lose your audience. Not only that, but if you lose your place, it is hard to find it again without long and uncomfortable pauses.
What to do
As I have already mentioned, use the slides as assign of what you are going to talk about. You might not even need words if you can find a good enough image. Once again, you should know your subject well enough, and have rehearsed it, not to need to rad a script. Just use your notes as a refresher for what you think you might forget or get wrong.
7 DON’T FORGET TO REHEARSE
There should really be no excuse for this. Even if you are good at presenting, or have done the presentation before, practice can only make you better.
What to do
The best speakers, even the CEO*s of blue chip companies, practice. They know how important it is. When you accept the invitation to do a presentation, build in practice time into your preparation planning. If you don’t rehearse, and it goes wrong, (which it probably will), all the rest of your hard work will be wasted anyway.
8 DON’T DRESS INAPPROPRIATELY
What to wear when giving a presentation is quite a tricky issue. When we are not sure what we should wear, we tend to put on what we always put on for work. If we are speaking in public, we need to do two things straight away*, even before we open our mouths – show we are credible and show we are in control. And although we might hate to admit it, what we wear and how we present ourselves, plays a significant role in how we are perceived and judged. (For more information, read Blink by Malcolm Gladwell).
What to do
As a rule of thumb, dress up not down. Find out what the culture of the company or audience is and dress appropriately, but a little better than everyone else, (but not too bling).
There are obviously many other bad habits and pitfalls to avoid and that I could have looked at here, and I will address them in other posts, but if you want or need to know more about how you can eliminate your bad habits and improve your presentation skills, then get in contact with us and we will be happy to help.
Just to finish with, and not to scare you too much, here are just a few other habits you should take care of.
- Umming and erring
- Scanning the audience and not looking at them
- Not preparing for questions
- Not repeating questions so that everyone can hear them
- Information overload
- Poor time keeping
- Going off topic
- Information not adapted to audience (too light, funny in the wrong place, too general, too heavy, too specific, too short, etc.)
- Complicated diagrams
- Whiz, bang slides
- Slides that are difficult to see or read
- Poor storytelling – or even none at all
- Too many words on the slides
- Poor branding
- Template confusion
- Too many fonts
*FRENCH – ENGLISH DICTIONARY
Disrupt – perterber
Well brought up – bien élevé
Apologise – s’excuser
Outset – début
Flustered – troublé(e)
Back-up plan – plan de secours, plan B
On a roll – avoir le vent en poupe
Settle down – se calmer
Glance – coup d’oeil
Guilty – cupable
Fidgeting – bougeotte
Rehearsing – répéter
CEO (Chief Executive Officer) – PDG
Blue Chip – valeur sûre
Rule of thumb – règle générale