Debunked!? The 7 Myths of Presentation Skills

Speaking is an audience-centered sport ~ Marjorie Brody

Please note: Boardroom presentations versus all other presentations. Boardroom presentations are unique in that they are designed to disseminate information, mostly instructional, and are in presenter-to-the-audience format. The presenter is expected to have the knowledge, and is presenting less for dialogue or questions, and more for ‘knowledge transfer.’ There are very specific requirements for boardroom presenting, and today I am focusing on workshop style presentations that are geared toward engaging your audience.

Myth #1 – Humor isn’t important. If we are going to be funny, then be funny! There are two key strategies of how to use humor into your presentations:

  1. Watch great presenters. What do Jimmy Fallon, Ellen DeGeneres, Hillary Clinton or Billy Crystal do on stage? What do they do with their hands and eyes? When and how do they raise their voice? Are they talking at or with us? Study the experienced presenters and make notes. Their experiences have helped them become the best at presenting. Personable is more valuable than funny. If our humor resonates as host and guest services, that’s appealing. My friend Mohammed Qahtani was the 2015 Toastmaster speaker of the year. See his award winning talk here:   Mohammed Qahtani
  2. Make fun of ourselves! I have learned not to scold or make fun of our audience, but rather to let people know my own flub-ups, and they listen – because they have flub-ups too.

Myth #2 – I need to memorize my Speech. In 1931 Gandhi was speaking before British Parliament about the importance of Indian freedom from British rule. The U.S., 150 years earlier, was incensed over tax on tea, and in India circa 1930, it became about tax on salt. In Gandhi’s 2-hour speech, one British journalist turned to another Indian journalist as they watched, and asked with curiosity, “How can Gandhi speak for 2 hours, without using a single note?” The Indian journalist responded, “Because he tells the exact same story to everyone. His wife, his family, his enemies, his friends, his detractors, and his disbelievers – it’s all the same.” That’s congruence in belief. We talk about speaking from the heart – it’s the real message – not one built for one group or person and changed for another. If we speak in congruence to our belief, we can’t lose our place because it is all in the power of our message, and not in our notes.

Myth #3 – Talk to your Audience. Appeal to your audience. Learn about your audience in detail. Build a relationship with your audience, with well-planned questions to bring them into your story. Stories are much more effective at conveying a message than lecturing. So many presenters are great talkers. Great presentations are great stories. Great presentations making us think, question, and become curious – that is the key to a great presentation. Facts and knowledge tied to the needs of your audience – that’s good. Try to learn before your talk:

  • How many people are we speaking to?
  • Who are they and what topic is scheduled before or after you?
  • What successes and challenges does the audience share?
  • What has the audience been told about your presentation, before you arrive?
  • Why has the audience gathered? For you, your topic, were they paid to be there, or were they forced to be there by their leaders?
  • What business factors are driving the need for your talk? Is it a product launch or are there going to be layoffs?

Myth #4 – Be motivating. Fact: people and groups motivate themselves. Use your voice and hands and appeal to their emotions. Your words are less important, than how your audience feels as you are saying the words. Are they sitting and listening the whole time you present, or can you get them talking with their neighbor? Can you get them standing up to do an exercise? Get them involved as much as possible. The more involved the audience is, the better their assessment of how a speaker understands them, and that’s power. Here’s another tip – don’t yell or whistle at your audience, saying “Get in your seats, we’re starting.”

Myth #5 – Keep talking – push through. Fact: Silence rules … practice well timed pauses for effect.

The most powerful word, is in the silence of a well-timed pause ~ Mark Twain

Myth #6 – Our Content has to be exactly right – Thinking that your content needs to support your organization’s plans and interests. Your intent actually needs to support your audience so that they feel like, “this presenter is speaking my language.” The 4 elements best applied to make that happen for everyone in your audience, is to relate:

  • The big picture
  • Evidence
  • Results
  • Sense of approval

Myth #7 – We should allow questions at the end of our Talk. Well, that has one person asking a question, which may be off-topic, and we end up having a one-on-one conversation, while a whole room full of people look at their watch. We can have questions written and collected, and then, after a break, we can address the 3 main themes. This is more engaging for the entire audience.

My strongest recommendation to improve our presentations is… please start with attending Toastmasters. It will make a positive difference in your confidence and success in front of groups.

Ready, Aim… Present!




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