Don’t Prepare for Your Presentations
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As the pandemic wanes, meetings are back and the demand for speakers is on the rise. These are coveted and lucrative assignments. They also provide exposure to potential clients.
If you receive a call to give a presentation, the pressure is on. There’s a lot at stake. You want your presentation to not just go smoothly but be great. Your goal is to motivate and inspire your audience.
Depending on your level of experience, you may seek out advice on how to give a killer presentation.
Unfortunately, much of what you’ll hear is dead wrong.
Here are some tips you’re supposed to follow if you are asked to give a presentation:
- Rehearse until you know your talk as well as you know the lyrics to “happy birthday.”
- Have a witty opening line that you memorize.
- Write out your entire presentation.
- Practice. Then practice some more.
- Use PowerPoint or even physical props.
The use of PowerPoint and similar platforms has spawned an industry of “experts.” This blog has a dizzying array of suggestions, ranging from how to choose a theme to how to make your slides “visually appealing.”
The scope of that advice will overwhelm most advisors who may feel the need to retain PowerPoint “experts,” at considerable expense, to professionally design their slides.
No wonder you feel more stressed after reading this advice.
Early in my speaking career, I followed this advice: I paid special attention to my PowerPoint slides in an effort make them different and engaging.
It didn’t work.
In retrospect, I should have been more attuned to the short attention span of my audience. While the data is not without controversy, there’s some evidence that “[u]nless the particular subject matter is deemed to be extra-ordinarily interesting or emotive, our brains are hard-wired to ignore most stimuli after about 10 minutes.”
My typical talk lasted 50 minutes. As it progressed, I could feel I was losing the audience.
I needed to take a fresh look.
A faulty assumption
I started by challenging my underlying assumptions.
I was being paid to deliver a talk that focused on extensive research I had done about converting prospects into clients. I assumed the audience was interested in what I wanted to say.
That assumption may sound familiar.
I was wrong. You can learn from my mistake.
A radically different approach
Here’s the thought that changed my approach to speaking.
I have no idea what’s on the mind of 100 or so strangers sitting in the audience, waiting for me to start my presentation. Isn’t it arrogant and presumptuous to assume they are interested in the material I’d chosen to present?
I took a radically different approach.
My next speaking gig was a big one. A large corporation was bringing together its senior executives from all over the world for an annual event. The company assembled an impressive panel of speakers. I was flattered to be among them, but terrified to try out my new approach before such a distinguished audience.
I did no preparation for my talk. I used no presentation materials.
I was the first speaker after lunch. I watched the three morning speakers. They were engaging, charismatic and interesting. Their PowerPoint slides were professionally designed.
Yet, as I observed from the audience, their attention waned after 10 minutes.
When my time arrived, I stood in front of the audience next to the person who introduced me. He gave a brief introduction.
If I followed my old format, I would have started my talk by showing a PowerPoint slide setting forth the data on how quickly we form first impressions and what we base them on.
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Instead, here’s what I said:
During the introduction, you could all see me. How long did it take you to form an impression of me? You can just call out your responses.
Most of the audience responded with answers ranging from “immediately” to “10 seconds.”
At that moment, I was confident my plan was working. I had engaged them. I asked follow-up questions:
What did you base that impression on?
Would you be willing to share your impression with me?
I could feel the energy and relief. It was almost like the audience was collectively saying: This is going to be different. We get to talk. We don’t have to sit through a lecture.
The balance of my “talk” was me asking questions that related generally to my research. I let the conversation go wherever they wanted to take it.
The give and take produced poignant and humorous moments as we got to know each other better.
The audience had questions about issues I never would have considered important.
The time flew by.
After my talk, the president of the company called me. He attended my talk. He told me his senior executives voted my talk as the best one at the conference and thanked me.
I never looked back. That experience changed the way I give talks, conduct workshops and even how I approach webinars.
When I’m asked to “give a presentation,” I respond by saying: “I don’t give formal presentations. What I do is engage in an extensive Q and A with the audience. Would that work for you?” After the initial surprise, no one has ever turned me down.
My experience should change the way you conduct meetings with prospects and clients as well.
Dan trains executives and employees in the lessons based on the research on his latest book, Ask: How to Relate to Anyone. His online course, Ask: Increase Your Sales. Deepen Your Relationships, is currently available.