Cliches and waffle can leave your presentation bloated. For a delivery that’s all killer and no filler, leave the flab on the cutting room floor.
It’s tough entertaining an audience. Ours is the short attention span generation, cursed with a terminal inability to concentrate. If you can make it to the end of this article without checking your phone, congratulations – you’re part of the elite. What hope does anyone have, then, of delivering a presentation that doesn’t provoke so much as a yawn or a sideways glance at a smartphone?
Well, you could start by cutting the crap. It’s not that you’re boring – gosh no. It’s just that in an era of fidgety, fickle listeners, it’s going to require all your oratory skills to keep eyes front and minds fixed on the message. Eliminating the needless fluff from your presentation will help your audience focus on the parts that matter and prevent restless minds from wandering and wondering. In the words of Charles de Lint, “The best artists know what to leave out.” As you’re about to discover, what you omit from your presentation can be just as important as what you keep in.
Banish filler words from your presentation
The most important thing to purge from your presentation won’t appear on any slide. It won’t be in your notes and it certainly didn’t crop up when you were practising in front of the mirror last night. We’re talking about filler words. Words whose sole function is to fill the awkward silence between your brain finishing one train of thought and starting another.
Well here’s the thing: that silence is only awkward if you choose to make it awkward. If you’ve finished delivering a key slide, there’s nothing wrong with letting the sound of silence fill the air. Let that pregnant pause hang for a moment. It’ll allow your previous comment to soak in like a malt whisky being swilled around on the tongue before it’s swallowed. It’s okay to pause while you gather your thoughts, but teach your brain to change gear silently. No umming, no ahhing and no erring.
None? Okay, some. Banishing all filler words from your public speaking is virtually impossible, and what’s more, it can actually sound unnatural. You’re not a robot after all. It’s good to sound human. But ideally, you want to sound like a confident human who knows exactly where their presentation is going, rather than an extremely nervous one who’s winging it.
Rehearse, record, revise
Using filler words is like having a nervous tic – often, we’re not even aware that we’re doing it. If you’re unsure how many filler words is too much filler, record yourself rehearsing your presentation. Hard mode: don’t look at your notes, so you’ll be more inclined to um and er while trying to recall key points. Now listen back to the recording. Aside from being freaked out by your own voice (yes, it does sound like that to the rest of us, and no, it isn’t weird), what strikes you about the delivery? Is it the voice of an assured speaker who’s calling the shots and knows exactly where they’re going? Or is it the voice of rising panic as fully formed sentences give way to a chorus of stutters?
Storytelling in presentations
Storytelling is an art, and one that can be applied to corporate presentations just as much as the primary school classroom. Here at Buffalo7, we’re big fans of telling stories, and it’s something we’ll be discussing in more detail in a forthcoming article. Whether it’s the story of your brand, or an anecdote about the Damascene moment that saw you quit your corporate job to become a life coach, a gripping tale can enthral an audience. It’s possible to go overboard, however.
Let’s suppose that you’re giving a presentation about smart fabrics. To emphasise the need for prudence when purchasing e-textiles, you decide to throw in a cautionary tale about The Emperor’s New Clothes. You probably recall the Hans Christian Andersen story, but as a little refresher, here are a few snippets:
- Many years ago, there was an Emperor so exceedingly fond of new clothes that he spent all his money on being well dressed.
- One day came two swindlers. They let it be known they were weavers, and they said they could weave the most magnificent fabrics imaginable.
- They set up two looms and pretended to weave, though there was nothing on the looms.
- The Emperor gave each of the swindlers a cross to wear in his buttonhole, and the title of “Sir Weaver.”
- Before the procession the swindlers sat up all night and burned more than six candles, to show how busy they were finishing the Emperor’s new clothes.
- The noblemen who were to carry his train stooped low and reached for the floor as if they were picking up his mantle.
It’s a brilliant story, but the bulk of it has no place in your presentation. Those last three bullet points? Completely irrelevant. Your truncated retelling of it might go something like this:
- Emperor gets promised fly new threads.
- Only smart people can see them.
- Emperor parades through the streets in the buff.
- Moral: beware of what you’re buying.
Remember, you’re telling a presentation – not giving a police statement. A little colour can be a good thing. A kaleidoscope of detail, not so much.
Axe the stats
Whether it’s last month’s downloads or next week’s sales forecast, statistics are an integral part of most presentations. They’re the bones around which your presentation is fleshed out. Facts and figures give weight to your argument and bolster your claims. Make no mistake, stats are a good thing.
But – and there’s always a but – they need to be used in moderation. Slide after slide of dense financial projections and analytics will bamboozle and bemuse your audience. People aren’t good with numbers – even people who are paid to be good with numbers. As a case in point, think about all the friends and colleagues stored in your phonebook. How many of those phone numbers do you know off by heart? Two? One? None? In fact, come to think of it, do you even know your own number?
Of course, your audience aren’t expected to memorise every figure you fling at them while delivering a PowerPoint presentation. The point is this: focus on the numbers that matter and discard the rest. This will prevent information overload. While you’re at it, try not to position all your statistics on the same slide. Interspersing your figures with qualifying information will make your presentation more balanced and easier to digest. Think less bone, more meat.
Axe the stats, cut the crap and you’ll be left with that most beautiful of beasts: a presentation that’s all killer and no filler.
Want to learn more about presenting and public speaking? Read our 5 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking.