Posts Tagged ‘presenting with impact’

Presenting is Distraction Management

March 2, 2012


I once ran a presentation skills course for The National Trust  on which one of my delegates was a forestry warden. In the presentation that he delivered he described forestry as being about “light management.” That phrase made me think about presenting in a different way. When you stand up to present – what is it that you have to manage?

Distraction… Presenting (it dawned on me) is about “distraction management.”

There are a myriad of ways in which your audience can be distracted.  Your role as a presenter or speaker is to limit the potential for these distractions to steal your audience’s attention away from you. Some distractions may be outside a speaker’s control but many are, unwittingly, caused by the speaker. Here then are the main distractions of which speakers and presenters fall foul.

1. Not being introduced or not introducing yourself properly. When people in an audience sit down they have many unanswered questions flying around their brain – one of which is, “Who is this?” and ” Why are they qualified to speak to me?” It’s an excellent idea to tell the audience your name (don’t just rely on PowerPoint or the printed programme) – most people don’t bother reading it. Qualify your experience in a short sentence or two. Don’t brag (I once saw a presenter who used PowerPoint to animate his qualifications  – one at a time –  after his name. This didn’t endear him to the audience. So, something along the lines of, “Well hello, Ladies & Gentlemen. Thank you so much for inviting me to speak today. My name is Roger Faraday and I have been practising employment law for the last 30 years…” If someone else is to introduce you – supply them with a script! (Otherwise they might say something that undermines you or what you have to say.) NEVER apologise for being the speaker: “I’m really not used to speaking in public…” or, “Our Managing Director has been called away on urgent business, so I’m afraid you’ve got me….”  are not phrases that an audience warms to and are ultimate distractions!

2. The audience not understanding, “what’s in it for them.” If someone in the audience doesn’t think the presentation you are about to give offers them something worth staying awake for, they’ll go to sleep. Not necessarily with their eyes shut but, they’ll be away with the fairies, day-dreaming about something more important. Early on in your presentation you need to motivate your audience to stay alert. Tell them what they’ll get out of your presentation. “So, by the time I’ve finished you’ll be able to….”

3. Not telling the audience for how long you’ll be speaking. People get twitchy if they don’t know when they can next go to the loo, have a fag, drink a coffee, hear the next speaker. etc. So, tell them for how long you’ll be speaking. Be specific. Nobody wants to hear, “so, in the next hour or so I’ll be covering…” or even, “Hopefully my presentation will last between fifteen and twenty minutes.” Hopefully is not a good word to use in your introduction! Having said how long you’ll be speaking for make sure you finish when you said you would (see number 8*.)

4. Typos in PowerPoint. Some people are incensed by spelling mistakes and other errors on your slides. For them this is a huge distraction and the only thing they’ll remember.

Flying low – distracting

5. Wardrobe malfunctions. If your flies are undone, or if your skirt is tucked ion your knickers, it’s very doubtful that many of your audience will hear much of what you say. Other wardrobe distractions include: dirty shoes; holes in the soles of your shoes;bulges in pockets; creased trousers/jackets; clashing colours; flamboyant ties; trailing threads; ties tied to the wrong length (see my blog The Tie as a Giant Arrow to discover the correct length); frayed cuffs; dangly, jangly jewellery. In a similar vein there’s unkempt hair (especially if there’s a bit sticking up) which can keep an audience fascinated for the duration of your talk.

6. The Gestalt Effect.  This is all about the little things that can visually annoy the hell out of people: crooked pictures on the wall; torn curtains on a stage; your slide show not being square (or worse still – spilling over the screen.) Before you start have a good look around and have a tidy up!

7. Other PowerPoint faux pas  We’ve looked at typos but there are a host of other ways in which PowerPoint can distract your audience:

  • too many words (20 a slide should do it)
  • slide numbers (it’s not good for an audience to read  “Slide 4 of 89” fifteen minutes into your twenty-minute presentation
  • being read to (audiences hate this and will hate you to if you turn your back to them and read what they can read for themselves
  • the phrase “as you can see” when they clearly can’t
  • the phrase “don’t bother reading that” – they’ll wonder why you couldn’t be bothered to edit it
  • animations for animation’s sake (especially when accompanied by the sound effects of type-writers or screeching tires.)

8. *Overrunning This drives an audience around the bend. Unless you’re Lee Evans, Ken Dodd or Billy Connelly, and the room is full of your adoring fans, they’d rather you finished on time. Honestly. Finish early and they’ll love you!

9. Fiddling It’s not a good idea to play with your jewellery; jangle the keys or coins in your pocket; keep pushing your sleeves up; twiddling your hair; scratching etc. You get the picture.

So, before you take to the stage, or the front of a boardroom, or even making a video for YouTube think about how you’re going to keep your audience’s attention and do all that you can to minimise any distractions.

In the meantime please share any stories about the ways in which speakers have distracted you? I’d love to hear about them!