Do You Make These Mythstakes?

Mythbusters: What to Believe?

When it comes to presentations, there’s a lot of advice out there. How many times have you heard the trope, “Just picture the audience in their underwear”? What? How is that supposed to help?

Let’s bust a few myths! Your task as a presenter is to help your listener get your message. If presentation advice leads you to that goal, great! Do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t. Here’s our take on how to best navigate through some well-intended but potentially confusing bits of advice:

Tell a joke to start your presentation. If this advice makes you panic, and you think, “I­­’m no good at telling jokes,” then clearly joke-telling is not good advice for you. Of course, you want to create a good rapport with your audience. Do that by being yourself — trusting who you are, what you know, and what you can do. Just bring your joy!

Never say “um” or “ah.” This advice is a surefire way to put yourself in lockdown: “Rats. I just said ‘um.’ I’m no good at this presentation stuff.” Or, “Ack! Now I just said ‘ah.’ I’m such a loser.” Here’s the truth — don’t worry about filler words. Bring your passion, and the rest will take care of itself.

Keep your hands in the power zone. Body language is a powerful communication tool. Using big, specific gestures or movements is a win-win-win: It helps your listeners, it brings down your nerves, and it takes your mind off of yourself. We believe your entire body is your power zone, so use all of it!

Use x number of slides per minute. When the slides are running the show, guess who’s not in control. You! And, that’s not good for your nerves. Guess what? The slides are not the presentation — you are. The graphics should be used only to support you telling your story. Ask yourself, “Will these graphics help my listener?”

Look at their noses. How do you connect with a nose?!? It might be advice meant to help you feel more comfortable, but it keeps you disconnected from people. The reality is that many of us are most comfortable in one-on-one conversations, and public speaking is actually a series of individual conversations. When your intent is to talk with an individual, you will truly communicate with people, noses and all.

Practice in front of a mirror. Who are you looking at and thinking about when you do that? Yourself. And who should you be focused on when you present? The listener. Watching yourself just reinforces that habit of focusing on, “How am I doing?”

When it comes to presenting, all advice should lead to helping your listener. That’s it. And please, do yourself a favor — keep your audience’s clothes on!

Tales from the Field

Tales from the Field

A few weeks ago, I shared a lesson/presentation on the life and work of an architect to two second-grade classes. Talk about a tough audience! As soon as I agreed to a date for the classes, I started to prepare. Yes, I couldn’t believe it either! With a two-week countdown, I wrote out my thoughts and ideas, reviewed them, selected images, went over the compilation, and then refined it all. Then, I started some rough rehearsals with my kids at home where their feedback (or lack of!) made me edit the presentation until I had something I thought would pass muster with seven- and eight-year-olds.

What I learned from this experience is that the presentation preparation process really ingrained the presentation into me. Even though I had notes for each slide, by the time I was presenting, I was nimble enough with the material to be able to dance with it and the class. I used actions to convey building elements, I kept the message of the lesson very simple, and I found myself trying to help the listener!

At one point, the class seemed to be losing focus, so I suggested to them that I skip a bunch of slides so they could get straight to a drawing exercise. They were having none of it! And, we were off again — I finished telling my entire story. It was as if the mini-break refocused them. All in all, it was a very good experience and rehearsal of the presentation process.

By the way, the training is useful all around! At work, we now approach how we gather information for a proposal differently. We now build proposals around the client’s “splinters” or hot buttons. And on the homefront, my new body language skills are helping me communicate even better with my wife and children. Fascinating stuff!

As you can see, I’m enjoying putting the training to good use.

Aneirin Owens
Project Architect
HOK
Chicago, IL

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