Public Presentations Gone Wrong

I recently saw a bad presentation. And I don’t mean bad as in Michael Jackson Bad.

The gentleman addressing our group was confident, spoke slowly, and knew his stuff. By all appearances he was an experienced speaker who had given public presentations multiple times.
And yet his talk was tough to sit through.

Here are a few reasons he was harder to follow than he might have realized:

1. He had tech issues

He had difficulty getting his PowerPoint to work right from the start. It seemed like he had not tested the A/V setup at the venue. His slide clicker wasn’t working, for example, so we spent the first few minutes watching someone try to figure out something that should have been ready to go. The glitches broke the flow and undermined his credibility.

2. He was too relaxed

The speaker carried a cocktail around on stage for a bit.
It was an afternoon business development and networking event.
I think he was trying to convince us to stick around for the post-presentation happy hour, but it seemed out of place. And once he couldn’t work the slides, I wondered if he might’ve had more than one drink.
I’m joking (kind of), but it’s an interesting trap to fall into when someone is so opposite of nervous that they seem disinterested in the effectiveness of their presentation.

3. He didn’t connect with his audience

Some speakers are great at going “off the cuff,” which means improvising or speaking extemporaneously. This individual tried some playful give and take, but we weren’t at a party or a casual event, so the most he accomplished was some awkward laughter.

His attempt to loosen things up didn’t work. Then he switched tack and tried some crowd participation.

“How long have you folks been using [his company’s product]? Raise your hand if more than two years.”

I didn’t see any hands go up.

“At least one year?” he tried.

A few hands. It was #awkward.

Instead of asking us how long we had used the product, he should have started with how many of us had ever used the product.

Again, if you’re going to go spontaneous and off the cuff, be sure it will work.

The interesting thing is that he knew his presentation so well that he took the overall execution of it for granted. His talk was smooth for the most part once it finally got going, but he could have easily been great. Instead, he became an example of what not to do, at least that day.

If only he had built his talk on the pillars of public presentations.

The 3 Pillars of Public Presentations

Preparation, Practice, and Performance are the pillars of presenting publicly. They represent the trinity of talking to anyone. If you can nail these three aspects of the public speaking process you will give successful presentations. It may not be so easy, especially at first, but it really is that simple.

Entire books exist on each of these three areas. This site is packed with such content. Here’s a quick intro for now.

Gain Influence Through Communication

Pillar 1: Preparation – The Proper Mindset

You may have heard how proper preparation prevents poor performance. That’s not entirely true because you still must show up and execute, but if you commit to prepare the right way you will have a much higher chance of succeeding.

When it comes to public speaking, preparation includes:

  • Knowing yourself and defining your purpose.
  • Clarifying your central idea.
  • Knowing your audience.
  • Gathering research.
  • Structuring your talk.
  • Crafting an emotionally engaging message.
  • Choosing the best type of delivery for your speech.
  • Creating useful visual aids and handouts.

Plenty to chew on there, but you can break down the process one step at a time and prepare well.

Pillar 2: Practice – The Pro’s “Secret”

Practice is still part of preparation. Your presentation gets more real and refined at this stage.

You may be tempted to glance past the practice phase. Do so at your own risk.

Yes, the next step will be actually going in front of people. Gasp! You may find yourself getting distracted by the big show. If you’re still freaking out about the idea of talking in front of others, then performing will feel like the monster at the end of this book.

Take a breath, and let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Focus on practicing enough, and you’ll do a ton to succeed later.

Practicing includes some or all of the following:

  • Run-throughs in private
  • Getting your notes together
  • Presenting in front of someone you trust
  • Rehearsing in the actual space (if possible or close approximation)

When is the practice phase complete? About an hour before you begin presenting probably. Before you run out of time, you should practice until you are as comfortable with your polished material as you can get.

Pillar 3: Performance – The Promise Delivered

Whether you are presenting to a small group around a table, through someone’s screen, or in front of a large room, performance is the act of making a live presentation.

You will likely feel nerves or even fear. That sensation is normal. Prepare and practice well enough so you can lean on the work you put in before the big moment.
Performance includes:

  • Choosing your wardrobe, makeup, and hair.
  • Getting your game face on.
  • Taking the stage.
  • Establishing your presence.
  • Capturing the attention of your audience.
  • Managing your time.
  • Keeping your audience’s attention.
  • Guiding participation.
  • Giving a clear call to action.

You should have some follow up tasks to accomplish after your presentation. Thank the organizer(s) and attendees. Share resources and relevant offers, and so on. For now, focus on the above lists. Where do you need to pay attention as you approach speaking with others?

Make A Great Presentation
I hope you are constantly becoming more confident as a presenter, but if you’re still feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of having to talk in front of others, here is some good news: Two-thirds of the public speaking process happens in private.

By the time you step in front of people, you’ve had plenty of time to prepare by yourself and with some trusted allies.

Through thoughtful preparation and focused practice, anyone can pull off a solid performance whether your audience is a group of 5 or 5,000.

What would you add to any of these three pillars of public presentations?

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