If you’re reading this, my guess is this has happened to you. You’re about a minute and a half into your presentation when things start going wrong. Maybe just slightly, uncomfortably wrong or maybe horribly this-can’t-be-really-happening wrong. Either way, you end the presentation feeling somewhere between a little let down and completely wrung out. “How did that just happen?” you think to yourself, “It sounded so good in my mind.” Want to avoid this kind of unwelcome surprise in the future? Next time, make sure you are not doing the following:
1. Running through the presentation ‘in your head’: Things sound great in your head. You’re the keynote speaker of your dreams, the smartest guy or gal in the room. You’re uttering the pithiest, most hilarious, most insightful stuff ever said. Except that you’re not hearing yourself saying it, you’re hearing it in your head. Nothing ever sounds the same in your head as it does coming out of your mouth. In fact, you don’t really even know how it sounds at all until you hear it OUT LOUD. OUT LOUD you’ll hear where you’re missing transitions, where you’re spending too much time on one point and not enough on another. OUT LOUD you’ll find the right words to say. Oh, and OUT LOUD you’ll see how saying those words feels. Saying stuff in your head and saying stuff OUT LOUD are two completely different experiences. First of all, OUT LOUD you have to push air through your vocal chords and out of your mouth – which has to form different shapes depending on the words you’re saying. That requires energy, effort and skill. Remember “Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore”? How easily can you say it in your head? How easily can you say it out loud? See? Lastly, let’s face it, when you’re running through your presentation in your head you can be easily distracted. Something else (anything else) can easily take precedent and poof!, your presentation is replaced by thoughts of lunch, a meeting, a Facebook photo… This is why you must practice OUT LOUD. In your head does not count. Period.
2. Reading from a script: I know, I know. You want to be sure you don’t forget anything. You don’t want to digress or get a fact or figure wrong. Plus, (according to you) you’re not so eloquent. Writing it down ensures you’ll be well-spoken, right? Wrong. Writing it down and reading from it ensures you’ll sound like you’re reading. And unless you’re a playwright or script writer you’ll be delivering something that sounds like reading material, not like conversation. Even worse, it’s virtually impossible to be lively, dynamic and – most important – connecting when you’re reading. Who cares if you repeat a word, or search for a word or even back track to a previous point to tag on something you forgot to say? As long as you’re looking at your audience and not reading from a script, they won’t care about any stumbles. And if you’ve practiced OUT LOUD there will only be minor stumbles anyway. You’ll be speaking in real, everyday language, just as you would in conversation with friends or colleagues. You’ll be communicating living ideas, not reciting from a dry (and most likely deadly) script. Instead of scripting every word, give yourself notes with keywords or at the most, short phrases. These will keep you on track and focused, while not sacrificing the connection between you and the audience or the natural pace and vocabulary of your regular, lively unscripted speech.
3. Relying on text heavy PowerPoint slides: This, combined with not practicing out loud, is probably the biggest detriment to presentations. Frankly, if you practiced your presentation OUT LOUD odds are good you’d end up deleting just about all of the text. You’d see that having all of those words up on the screen only caused distraction (and not only for you, for the audience as well). Once you practice your presentation OUT LOUD you’ll find that you don’t need all of those words, you can remember what you want to say without them. Bravo! And thank heavens, because those slides were never ever meant to be your notes. Lots and lots of text on a slide does nothing but create a barrier between you and the lively connecting delivery of your message.
Don’t let any of these bad habits get in the way of your next presentation. Use notes with simple key words or short phrases, remember that PowerPoint slides are there to aid the audience, not hold your copious notes. And for goodness sake, practice OUT LOUD. You’ll be giving presentations that feel even better than you imagined in your head! And you’ll be heard.