Being natural and conversational is the key to delivering a great speech. Your audience will respond to your genuineness. If you sound like you are just reciting a script your listeners will be repelled.
We need to look no further than an everyday office to find examples of what not to do when delivering a speech.
Barry Shields is an expert in his field. He had been working for the same company for almost 10 years and his can-do attitude had seen him rise from sales representative to director of company operations in a few short years.
Barry knew the company inside out. He knew the company’s great points and the things they didn’t do so well. He’d worked in most departments over the years, outside the book-balancing ones.
Barry had implemented both company-wide and team-specific process improvements. He had a good eye for looking at an inefficient workflow and removing redundancies.
When other directors and managers sought information and wanted to implement change, Barry was often called upon as an advisor. He had his ear to the ground and could find holes in proposed new systems and processes.
When the sales department considered implementing a new database, Barry pointed out the negative impact the new database would have on fulfillment. Another hole Barry helped plug. Another day the company lived to tell the tale.
Barry was known to be great.
Barry was also known to be boring.
He liked bullet points. When he was called upon to deliver a speech outlining an operational area he knew well he would arrive well-prepared with a full slide deck for his audience’s viewing pleasure.
Barry’s speeches and presentations were informative. The information he shared often prevented problematic change initiatives that could have left the company open to risk. It’s just that no one liked to be in the audience for his speeches because every bullet point on every slide received proper attention and care.
Barry meticulously read and elaborated on every hanging indent. He was well-prepared, after all.
Barry Shields is the perfect example of a person who delivers awful speeches. Barry is a subject matter expert, which is a good thing.
The trouble is, Barry is such an expert he is more focused on the information than he is on his audience. Following every presentation, the audience needs to get a copy of his slides and review them to make sure they understand everything from his hour-long session.
Catherine Walsh is also a terrible speaker. She works in Barry’s department and sometimes stands in for Barry when he is very busy.
Catherine knows company operations well but isn’t quite as knowledgeable as Barry. As a result Catherine diligently does a lot of preparation prior to each presentation she delivers.
As she prepares, and uncovers new information to be shared, Catherine adds it to her slide deck.
Once she has all the data she needs to share she reviews her slide deck and puts all the information in a logical and easy-to-understand order. She is able to organize the information into short, bulleted lines on her slides.
When delivering her speech, Catherine uses her slide deck to drive her talk. Not having the same in-depth knowledge as Barry, she is unable to talk from memory and so she carefully reads through her logically ordered bullets to the audience.
At the end of Catherine’s presentation the audience members who are still awake request a copy of her slides to review later.
As with Barry’s delivery, the audience has not only sat through an hour of drudgery but still have reading to do to get what they need out of the speech.
Barry and Catherine could save everyone time by simply emailing their slide decks to the audience. That way the audience could read the slides at their desks and wouldn’t have to waste time getting together in a meeting room just to have the slides read to them by a “presenter.”
Between them, Barry and Catherine have enough knowledge to power the whole firm. So what is it that makes them terrible public speakers? The answer lies in their reliance on both technology and information.
Barry and Catherine both rely way too much on technology. Specifically, presentation software.
Any speech that uses slides as the centerpiece is going to go badly because it doesn’t allow for a connection with the audience.
The original purpose for slide software, such as PowerPoint and Keynote, was to replace the scribblings on transparent slides shown occasionally on overhead projectors. Presenters used these projected transparencies to support their speech.
With the advent of presentation software, and computer literacy, times have changed. Now slide decks are used as reporting tools and to design client proposals.
Suddenly everyone is a presenter. At least, everyone believes themselves to be a presenter.
The term presentation has become synonymous with a slide deck. Previously having meant the sharing of information, office workers now equate “presentation” with “slides”. With everyone having ready access to PowerPoint, Keynote, or some open source alternative, it’s easy to see why.
Now the slide deck is the driver. Where once the slides acted as support to what we told the audience, they are now the main event.
The speaker stands to the side, reading the slides to bored listeners as they check their watches and wonder what to eat for lunch. Occasionally making eye contact and gesturing wildly, our presenter presses the audience to notice the amazing key points on the umpteenth slide.
One bullet point blends into the other and the audience members who had been able to maintain focus slowly drift away only to be jolted back to hell by “Are there any questions?”
A few questions are asked and answered. The visually and audibly abused file out of the conference to freedom. Safe until the next organized assault goes down in meeting room number 3.
As long as we continue to rely on technology to drive presentation delivery the same war on eyes and ears will keep going down in meeting rooms and auditoriums across the globe every day.
To put a stop to this war, that no one can possibly win, we speakers need to change our approach to technology. We need to use technology as an assistant, not a master.
When logic fails
Barry and Catherine have another problem… Their reliance on data, logic, and facts.
Of course, it’s important that every presentation is based on logical, factual, provable information, but that alone can’t sustain a presentation or the audience’s attention. There also needs to be a connection between speaker and listener.
To build a connection with the audience the speaker needs to treat the audience as humans. The speaker needs to empathize with the audience. Understanding their needs and empathizing with them is the key to success.
The audience will respond to the speaker’s genuineness.
The day-to-day speaking example is that of a reluctant employee thrust in front of their peers and superiors to share information about a team issue, company product, or policy. In preparation for their speech the speaker does not think about their audience. They spend the whole time thinking about themselves! Why do I need to this? I don’t want to be embarrassed. How can I get through this as quickly as possible with the least amount of pain inflicted on me? Not once does the speaker consider their audience.
If the audience is not considered at all, or at best, considered as an afterthought, how will the speaker ever be able to build rapport with them.
What if the reluctant presenter took their speaking skills to real life conversations?
Max is getting ready to leave the house. He has plans to catch up with his friend Fred. They have planned to catch up for a few drinks and dinner. Right now, Max is pacing back and forth in his living room, a look of sheer terror on his face.
It is almost time to leave to meet up with Fred but Max can’t remember everything he was going to say!
He had it all laid out: First he was going to talk about his new promotion at work. Next, Max would transition to talking about the cancelled flights and tropical disasters he and his family experienced on their last vacation. His memory was failing him about what was next.
If Max couldn’t remember what to say he was sure there would be awkward silences and he would undoubtedly feel uncomfortable.
He glanced at his watch. 7pm!
He needed to leave. Max scribbled what he could remember on the back of his hand and headed out the door.
How do you think the conversation will go between Max and Fred during their evening out?
Max will likely be a quivering mess for the most part. Bumbling from one “me” centered topic to the next to avoid awkward silences.
Fred will listen out of courtesy, occasionally asking some questions. Max will sometimes catch himself and allow Fred to talk. While Fred is talking all Max can think about is “What am I going to say next?”
At the end of the evening they will part ways, Max finally able to relax and Fred wondering why he wasted his time and thinking about how to delay the next catchup indefinitely.
This is an extreme example, but this is how most presenters act on stage. The presentation is all about them. What the presenter wants to say, how the presenter feels, the presenter’s goals, the presenter’s comfort.
When we go into any social situation, including public speaking, with a “me” approach the results are never good. With a “me” approach a presentation isn’t a natural conversation with the audience, it is talking “at” rather than “with” them.
The audience responds by tuning out.
The 2 keys
- To create a connection with the audience you must deliver your talk in a conversational way.
- Use slides as a support tool, not as the main focus point of your presentation
What do you think? Let’s chat in the comments below…
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