I’m talking about your presentations.
You know it, and I know it.
But there’s a barrier, right? A barrier to improving your presentations.
It’s the lies you’ve been told by your peers or superiors.
It’s the misinformation that people have heard so many times that gets assumed to be fact.
It’s the way your colleagues add paragraphs of text to slide decks as if they know what they’re doing.
With that said, here are 7 lies about presentation skills you still believe (and the surprising truth about each).
1. You should write out a script
You definitely need to do this, because if there’s one thing you can fit into your already hectic business day, it’s writing out a 1,500 word script and aiming to memorize it word for word.
Nothing can possibly go wrong with this plan.
You’re going to look brilliant in front of everyone in the meeting room as you look at the ceiling trying to remember line 5.
Writing out a script and trying to memorize it for a business presentation is doomed to failure.
You’re really going to balance your already stressful job with perfecting a speech that you can remember?
Even if you can remember it all you’ll sound terrible because the way we write and the way we speak are different.
What you need to do is understand your subject matter well and speak from an outline. When you know your subject matter, you’ll sound natural, knowledgeable, and credible.
2. You should stand up straight
That’s right, none of that relaxed and normal crap around here.
There’s nothing audiences like better than been talked at by a wannabe authoritarian-state soldier.
Before you worry about standing up as straight as possible, put yourself in the position of the audience – do you think they want to listen to a talk delivered by someone concerned primarily with their posture?
You shouldn’t be bent over like a Neanderthal, but just stand in a relaxed position. The more relaxed you are the better you’ll feel and the better you’ll sound.
3. You should practice your body language
If you want to be taken seriously that is.
Whenever you say “small”, hold your fingers close together like you’re holding something small.
Whenever you say “somewhat”, open your hands towards the audience about waist distance apart.
Whenever you say “big”, spread your arms really wide above your head.
Whenever you say “massive”, spread your arms really wide and tap dance furiously for 5 seconds.
The only reason to practice your body language is to look like a fool.
You’re dealing with the difficulty of talking in front of a large group of people, trying to remember what to say, and maintaining your composure; Trying to remember which body part to move when you say particular words on top of all that is lunacy.
Know your subject matter well and simply talk about it. The more confident you are talking about your topic the more natural your body language will be.
4. You should always take questions at the end
If you’ve got a controversial topic, save up all those tough, aggressive questions until the end so you leave the audience with something negative to remember about your presentation (it’s either that or your wide handed tap dancing, right?)
It’s often best to try to avoid disruption during your presentation and batch all your questions up at the end in a neat little Q&A session.
This doesn’t work so well, however, when you’ve got subject matter likely to prompt a lot of negative or challenging questions. In this case it may be better to balance the negativity by taking questions throughout your talk as they arise.
5. You should imagine everyone naked
Your colleagues and superiors are busy people who didn’t really want to be in your presentation, so seeing you tittering away on stage, as you imagine Mature Mable and Senior Simon from accounting in their birthday suits, is an excellent use of their time.
Just stand on stage and communicate as you would in a regular conversation. No tricks, no gimmics. Just talk to your audience.
6. You should use your slides as a reminder of what to say
Yes you should.
Take cue cards, a script, a typewriter, and a packet of matches into the meeting room with you too.
This is not about communicating a message at all. It’s definitely just about reading something to the audience which they could have read themselves more efficiently.
The slides are there to add impact and support you.
You are not there to win best supporting actress to PowerPoint.
7. You should avoid having a lot of slides
The other one is, “Keep to a 5 slide limit.”
Both of these are fantastic ideas.
The person setting the limits obviously knows exactly how the slides should be supporting you.
You’ve got about 12 slides worth of supportive information, but we don’t want to confuse the audience with double digits. Plus, there is a lot of whitespace on those first few slides.
Cut, cut, cut. Paste, paste, paste.
Now you’ve got a grand total of 3 slides that look less like farmland and more like downtown Tokyo with the Olympics and World Cup happening at the same time.
The slides are there to support you and you should use as many as necessary to achieve your goal.
As long a the slides aren’t full of text and page numbered “3 of 33” at the bottom you can do whatever you want.
Keep the audience engaged and they won’t care about how many slides you have.
What do you think? Let’s chat in the comments below.