Stupid Mistakes That Sabotage Your Speech and Business Presentation

It’s hard to believe that speaking before an audience is more frightful than dying, but reports indicate people consistently rank public speaking as their #1 fear.

One reason presenting in public is frightening is that we feel exposed on a platform in front of a crowd. We worry that we’ll do something stupid to embarrass ourselves or to sabotage our careers. After all, we’ve seen other people stand before a crowd and do stupid things.

Fortunately, we can learn from the mistakes of others, and we can avoid them. This article describes mistakes I’ve seen people make to sabotage their own success. I share these examples with you so you don’t make the same mistakes. You can set your fear aside today!

Make Negative Jokes about Your Competence

A consultant was asked to address a group for a potential client. The consultant had 30 minutes to say something useful and make an impression in order to be asked back for a fee. Following the introduction, audience members clapped.

The speaker responded to the applause with this statement, “It’s nice to receive applause before you start a presentation-because you never know what will happen afterwards.” Good grief, what was he thinking?!

Audience members form an opinion of a speaker in the first seconds of a presentation. This speaker used those precious first seconds to say he might lose control of the speech. Who would want to listen to him, let alone hire him?!

Self-deprecating humor is fine, and sometimes it’s desirable-but NOT as you introduce your speech and NOT about your competence. As you begin a speech, strive to grab the audience’s attention, establish a connection with them, and show you are qualified to address the topic.

Tell the Entire Story-Except How It Applies to the Audience

An accomplished physician and medical researcher told me about a presentation she had recently made. “I gave too much background and had to rush when explaining the clinical implications.” “Who was the audience?” I asked. The answer: “It was a conference for clinicians.”

It’s natural for a researcher, sales person or executive to structure a presentation chronologically. It’s natural to expect the background information to lend weight to the finale-the conclusion or recommendation. It’s natural, that is, if you’re thinking from a speaker’s perspective.

From an audience member’s perspective, this “natural” approach can be a boring put-off. Chances are you’ve had the experience-as an audience member-of feeling your eyes glaze over when a presenter droned on about background or technical details that were entirely irrelevant to you.

Audience members come for the finale. They are interested in background details only to the point that the details clarify or support the recommendation or results. Limit background to information audience members must know to understand how the material applies to them.

Start with the finale-even give the punch line-and you’ll grab the audience’s attention and provide a framework to put the details that follow into perspective. Provide a web link for those interested in more detail.

Try to Cram Two Pounds of Material into a One-Pound Time Slot

When you try to cram 60 minutes of material in a 20 minute time slot, you’ve made a stupid mistake. In presentations, a simple equation applies: less content equals more power.
This is not to say that the quality of your content doesn’t count or that superficial equals successful. It does mean the following:

*Audience members are more likely to retain one well-developed point than five points that you rush through.

*Rush speed is exhausting for the speaker and overwhelming for the audience. When you deliver an appropriate amount of material for your time slot, you’ll have time for dramatic pauses and other delivery techniques that increase audience interest and retention.

*When you try to cram 60 minutes into a 20 minute time slot, it often means you haven’t done your homework. You haven’t thought about what your audience needs to hear as opposed to what you’d like to say. Cramming is a mistake of the lazy speaker-don’t do it!

Choosing Presentation Music for Maximum Effect

There is more to a presentation than words, and the nonverbal content needs as much consideration as the verbal. The right presentation music can create an atmosphere for your piece that helps convey your message. Deciding which music to use is one of the most important decisions facing a presentation producer. Some production designers choose their music in an almost offhand manner. This is usually a mistake. The same designer would never choose presentation graphics at random; the visual elements of a project as carefully selected to enhance and elaborate on the message of each slide and of the work as a whole. Slapping a random track onto the result of weeks of design is risky and unprofessional at best and self-defeating at worst. Music, like every other part of the endeavour, should be chosen as part of the overall effect.

One important consideration in presentation music selection is the sensibilities of your target audience. You never want people to think your project is in poor taste. Work aimed at certain religious or educational venues should not be accompanied by anything that alludes to rap or rock music. Just as image files should be selected so as not to offend, so should music be carefully screened. People react to different music in different ways. Make sure the music chosen will have the effect desired. If the idea is to entice viewers to a trade show booth, the style will be bright and happy. It should not, however, make listeners want to move, or they may move right on past the booth and defeat the whole purpose. Similarly, an educational video on conflict resolution probably should not feature music with overtones of aggression. The loops have to be part of the total package.

Music search must be begun early immaterial of the loops that you choose. Finding the right track can take quite a long time, and it may even take more time to acquire the rights to the music. There are times when you can use music specially recorded for the presentation if you are making the video for use in a school or church setting where musicians can be hired for a reasonable cost. Never use copyrighted material when you are selecting presentation music. Copyright does not confine itself to the use of a record and quite often even the tune and lyrics have a copyright for which a fee may require to be paid, unless the circumstances are unusual. So whenever you are looking at such music as a designer make sure that the copyright on the tune has expired or specifically ask for original music. There are original performances that are pre-recorded and meant to be sold specifically as presentation music and this avoids the issue of copyright.

If the piece is not composed by the person selling it then they will supply the purchaser with the required documentation required for the usage. This is one of the safest legal ways of getting the music. If you want to use presentation tracks which are pre-recorded, you should know where they can be found. Music which is available commercially could prove to be quite expensive, whereas work which is amateurish will not get you the effect which is required. Appropriate music is available for download at affordable rates from certain websites which specialize in such music. Some of the free stuff may not be so great, but there are composers who have created great music from single loops to entire music CDs which can fit ideally to your requirements. Each presentation should have an appropriate soundtrack which brings out the emphasis on the topic and sets the mood that the designers intended. Presentation music available online is great to create an impact and will be well within your budget. For great music loop go to:

Don’t Be Fooled by These Presentation Myths

Are your business presentations persuasive? Does your audience remember and act on your message? If not, perhaps you are following conventional wisdom. The problem with conventional wisdom is it’s often irrelevant, out of date, or just plain wrong.

Here are some widely held presentation myths that you would do well to ignore.

Tell ‘em three times. There is an old saw for presenters that says you should first tell your audience what you’re going to tell ‘em, then tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em. This might have worked in our great grandfathers’ time, when people were less educated and had longer attention spans. If you tell a modern audience the same thing three times they will feel insulted. Don’t treat your audience like children.

If you feel your message is so complicated that you need to repeat yourself, you need to simplify your message instead.

You need a rich, resonant voice. This is true only if you are a radio personality. A good business presenter has a voice with three qualities:

It is loud enough to be heard. If your voice isn’t loud enough, use a microphone.

It is clear enough to be understood. This is not a problem for most people (see articulation, below).

It is enthusiastic enough to be compelling. A monotone is boring. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you don’t sound excited about your message, why should your audience care about it?

Provided you are loud enough, clear enough, and enthusiastic, your natural voice is probably just fine.

You must articulate clearly. It’s OK if you slur some words together or drop a letter here and there, so long as your audience understands you. Don’t try to sound like a radio announcer speaking the Queen’s English if you have a certain accent. Be yourself. Your audience wants to connect with you as an individual. They know a phony when they hear one.

Moreover, you don’t want to sound like everyone else has been taught to sound. If you sound like the crowd you will be perceived as a commodity. You want to sound like yourself – unique.

You need more polish. A business audience is skeptical, critical, and hard-nosed. They have strong opinions and are not easily sold. Making better eye contact and smoother gestures will not make much difference to them if they don’t like your message.

Gestures, body language, and other niceties of delivery style are like polish. Polish can add a bit more shine to something that is already shiny, but it cannot bring luster to something that is inherently dull. A discriminating audience is looking for content, not a slick delivery.

You need great visual aids. Most presenters use slides and other visual aids as a crutch. They show a slide and read what’s on it. Your audience could just read the slides themselves, making you redundant.

In many cases you may not need visual aids at all. The most compelling visuals are the mental images you evoke in the minds of your listeners through metaphors, examples, and stories.

Your audience is interested in your message. Most presenters assume their audience is enriched by their presentation. This is a dangerous assumption to make. Chances are some (if not most) of the people listening to you are only there because they have to be. They may not agree with you, they may not want to hear you, and they have other things on their mind. They are doing you a favor by giving you some of their valuable time and possibly some of their limited attention. You need to give them something they value in return. And you need to let them know you are offering value from the very beginning, or you will quickly lose them.

Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. You don’t have to practice very much. This is a business presentation, not a soliloquy from Shakespeare. You won’t be perfect, and you don’t need to be. You just need to master the material.

Mastering the material means being able to discuss it comfortably and convincingly. Your audience expects you to be in command of the subject matter you are presenting. This does not mean memorizing.

Having said that, you should memorize your opening because it must grab the attention of your audience. You should also memorize the call to action in your conclusion, because it is too important to ad lib. In between your memorized opening and closing lines is the meat of your presentation. Work from a carefully structured outline, but be flexible.

Most presenters buy these myths. They try to look, sound, and present like other good presenters. They strive to be plain vanilla. Vanilla is popular. Vanilla is safe. But it isn’t memorable. If your message isn’t memorable, your presentation has failed.