I’ve watched interesting subjects, content-rich seminars, lectures by fascinating people and important messages that needed to be communicated all go down in flames as the individual responsible for delivering the presentation takes exciting material and turns it into something about as exciting as watching paint dry. It likes watching someone torture a kitten — just senseless and sad (and a bit enraging.) Today I present to you five sure-fire ways to kill a public presentation.
1. Read to your audience
Nothing says to a group of people, “I consider you to be dullards who are too lazy to learn on your own” than droning on and on by reading your presentation to them or by reading long quotations from others to them. It is quite acceptable to insert (and read) a brief quote, maybe even a salient paragraph, from a renowned expert for emphasis and content enrichment. But c’mon — don’t write your entire speech out and then drone on over it. If you are going to do that, just print out copies for everyone. Distribute them as they walk through the door and dismiss them shortly thereafter. And for anyone who would mention that piece of lore that “Jonathan Edwards read ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’.” to his audiences, I would say — 1) Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, 2) You aren’t Jonathan Edwards and 3) your audience isn’t a bunch of puritans who have never been exposed to such modern niceties as TV, radio, the internet, public libraries, Twitter, etc…. Trust me on this one. Reading your speech will result in subtle evacuations as people pretend to get a phone call or even a call from Mother Nature, just to escape your unimaginative (and lazy) efforts.
2. Don’t Move
You will not find a single public speaking guide that encourages you to stay in one spot as if someone had super-glued your Chuck Taylor’s to the floor. Motion attracts attention and reduces focal fixations which lead to mental “checkouts”. Move around, flail your arms if necessary, bend over, kneel down, do laps around the podium if necessary — but keep the audience watching you and wondering what you are about to do next. Or you can simply stand still enough that spiders will build webs between you and the lectern while birds build nests in your hair.
3. Don’t Use Illustrations
I’ve heard some say that using illustrations prevents you from spending more time on content and that the audience should be disciplined enough to just sit there and take in the information. This is kind of like announcing to your staff that “beatings will continue until morale improves.” Even Mary Poppins understood that “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” Illustrations provide connection points, application examples, mental breaks and personal interaction with the audience. Next time you are listening to a public speaker, watch the reaction of the audience when he/she uses a personal illustration. You’ll see heads come up, attention shift, people will lean slightly forward, facial expressions will take an an aura of anticipation and the room dynamics will completely shift. I’ll offer more suggestions in this area in a future article.
4. Keep your voice even
Don’t allow for passion. Keep the tone mono. Don’t fluctuate volume, speed or intensity. Seriously. Do. Not. Do. It. You’ll awaken them from their naps. THEN you might have to actually be involved with them. We wouldn’t want that, would we?
5. Ignore your audience
If people are nodding off, that’s THEIR problem, amIright? They should be eager to listen. It’s obviously a sign of poor character and intellectual laziness. If people stop coming to your seminars, sermons, lessons, etc…, well, obviously it’s because they can’t handle substantive teaching, right? If you see people playing “Candy Crush” and “Angry Birds” on their iPhones — it’s just one more demonstration that the fall of civilization is just around the corner. Heaven forbid that the speaker might actually notice that he/she is losing their audience and do something creative to inspire interest or connection. All you are required to do is get through the material and fill up the time.
Hopefully, you aren’t trying to kill your presentation, nor your audience when you are engaged in public speaking. Being aware of your audience and the responsibility you have as the speaker to engage them will change your delivery and challenge you to try different techniques to make them leave your presentation wondering where they time went and wishing they could have gotten just a little bit more.
Dan Burrell holds a Doctorate in Educational Leadership and is a former classroom teacher, current college professor and past-president of the Florida Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. He has co-authored two books for teachers and has extensive experience in training classroom teachers, story tellers and communicators around the world.
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