Old Habits Die Hard: 3 Presentation Crutches to Kick

May 3, 2016

Smoking. Biting your nails. Overspending. We all have a bad habit or two, and some are harder to kick than others. But before you can break these habits, you have to identify exactly what they are. Half of the time, we do these things without even thinking: mindlessly chewing on our nails while we sit in traffic, or forgetting about our budget when you notice a BOGO sale.

Likewise, when it comes to public speaking and presentations, it’s not always easy to notice what you’re doing wrong. If these habits go unnoticed, they’ll just become more and more ingrained. Here are three of the most common presentation errors that we see in speakers—both new and experienced—and some quick ways to alter those habits so you can connect with your audience more effectively.

Drowning everything in data.

Have you ever squeezed some ketchup onto your cheeseburger, and the top of the ketchup bottle pops off, and then there’s so much ketchup all over your burger that you’re left scraping off the excess in hopes of salvaging an edible meal?

KetchupYeah, same thing goes with data in your presentation. If there’s too much of it, it’s no longer appetizing.

Data is an incredibly valuable asset to any business. But across pretty much every industry, a ‘more is better’ philosophy has prevailed. Business leaders want every ounce of their business analyzed, quantified and reported on. More metrics. More analytical models and algorithms. Data is a vital and illuminating thing.

Where you can start to run into problems is in communicating and PRESENTING information. Using a data-first approach in a presentation or speech is forgetting one very critical fact: your audience is made up of human beings. Whether it’s 3 people or 3,000, every member of every presentation’s audience has one thing in common: they are human. And the science of storytelling tells us that statistics and data simply do NOT resonate with the human mind like evocative, human-focused language does.

Put it this way, you’d never try to fix a printer by having a conversation with it, so why do people talk to humans as if they’re machines? It just doesn’t make sense. Humans aren’t inspired by spreadsheets and pie charts. We’re INFORMED by them, but not inspired. We want pictures, stories, gifs and anecdotes. We want ideas, conveyed through passion and authenticity.

Using filler words.

“Fillers” are pointless words that sneak into presentations (and regular conversations), such as “um,” or “like.” They’re okay in moderation, but when you use them frequently they can really distract from your message.

We lean on filler words when we over-memorize a presentation. When you try too hard to stay on script, you’re searching for the next word, not the next idea. When you memorize your presentation word for word, you’re more likely to say, “uhhh..” while you search for the next line.  

But when you internalize and really KNOW your content, your tone and pace will come off as much more conversational because you’re speaking naturally. You’re speaking about ideas, not reading pre-written lines. Less ums, more applause.

Hot tip! Speak slower! Give your mind time to catch up to your speaking pace so you’re not searching for the next word.

Overstaying your welcome.

If you’re given twenty minutes to speak… only speak for twenty minutes. Going over time is rude and selfish — not to mention you’ll bore your audience. Just like you wouldn’t crash at your friend’s place for longer than you’re invited (at least we hope not), don’t hang out on stage longer than you’re supposed to.

ClockOften we see people really try to stretch their content to fill the time, and they end up being redundant or they lose their audience. Instead of feeling like you need to filibuster your final 10 minutes, open it up to Q&A or create an engaging interactive activity for your audience—that way you can keep talking, and your audience will stay interested.

Public speaking is a muscle that must constantly be exercised. The more comfortable you become giving presentations, the stronger your delivery will be. As you practice writing speeches, you’ll learn how to time your presentation in a way that’s respectful of the audience’s time and keeps them interested.

If any of these habits sound familiar, don’t worry—you’re not alone. Public speaking is a skill that takes lots of practice, and breaking habits isn’t an easy task. Tackle each of these bad habits one by one, and soon enough, you’ll be a presentation pro.

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