When you’re preparing for a big presentation, it can suddenly feel like colleagues, friends and family members are all playing public speaking coach, imparting well-meaning if slightly misguided advice on how to deliver your talk effectively.
This kind of encouragement and counsel has spawned a plethora of presentation myths that aren’t necessarily true, but fret not – Buffalo 7 are on hand to sort the wheat from the chaff.
Great presenters don’t get nervous
This is a myth propagated by appearances and not reality. Effective public speakers appear to be confident, with complete mastery over tone and delivery. But that doesn’t mean that they don’t get nervous: they’re just experienced enough to manage those nerves.
In the words of American literary great and prolific public speak Mark Twain, ‘There are two types of speaker in the world. 1. The Nervous and 2. Liars.’
Presentation anxiety has affected most speakers at some stage, but it doesn’t need to get in the way of you delivering amazing presentations. Try to turn your nerves into positive energy by focusing on how excited you are to deliver your message to your audience, breathe deeply and deliberately, and take care not to rush.
It’s best to focus on one point at the back of the room
We don’t know where this weird piece of presentation advice came from, but it usually goes something like this: pick a point at the back of the room to focus on and speak to it over your audience’s heads – that way, they’ll feel like you’re speaking to them.
No doubt this idea comes from a well-intentioned place: probably to stop newbie presenters staring at the floor or talking into their notes.
But if having a conversation with someone you wouldn’t look above their head, and that’s exactly what a presentation should be – a conversation. Instead, make eye contact with one person in the audience for a few seconds before moving on to someone else and doing the same; speaking deliberately to audience members in this way will enhance your credibility and make your presentation more engaging.
You’ll never be as good as an extrovert or ‘natural’ public speaker
It’s a common misconception that the best public speakers have ‘natural’ charisma that enables them to present the way they do. But they didn’t just become that way overnight: everyone has to start somewhere and it’s through experience that these presenters have built up the skills and flair we admire.
Susan Cain argues that good public speaking shouldn’t be correlated with extroversion, and that it’s a performance mode everyone can inhabit. In Susan’s words, ‘Who cares if you’re not a natural storyteller? You can craft your stories beforehand, practice them, and share them […] then you can step off stage and go right back to being yourself.’
Read more of her public speaking tips for introverts here, or check out her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
Bullet points are an effective way of communicating information
Bullet points are the devil in our studio: our presentation designers have declared them the greatest presentation sin of all. They’re lame, half-hearted and demonstrate that you’ve given little thought to how you’re presenting your key points.
If your information is delivered in a mundane bulleted list, people are less likely to remember it. Instead, try separating your points out onto individual slides, each set against powerful imagery. Or if they have to be on the same slide, use PowerPoint animations and transitions to reveal multiple points as layers of messaging (icons coupled with captions is a good shout here).
You should keep your hands by your sides
Those who suggest not making use of your hands when public speaking probably do so because they’re overly conscious of their movements, or because they’re worried about making weird hand movements.
But if you want to appear credible, your audience needs to see your hands: showing them is a non-verbal way of establishing trust. As speaker and body language trainer Vanessa Van Edwards points out, ‘Our brain instinctively looks at people’s hands because they are truth indicators. Back in caveman days it was important to be able to see someone’s hands so you knew they were not holding a weapon. We still have trouble relaxing when we can’t see [them].’ If you want to read more of Vanessa’s insights, you can do so on her site The Science of People here.
It can seem hard to know what to do with your hands when presenting, but you should actually be using body language to enhance your messaging. Calm, deliberate motions can break down barriers between speaker and audience or emphasise certain information, while dynamic gestures can reinforce points in high-energy presentations. Most importantly, relax and do what feels natural: gestures that seem forced are awkward and inauthentic.
The best presenters don’t use PowerPoint
PowerPoint has been given a bad rap recently in the creative industries, business and even academia. But while it’s a very au courant trend for people to blame PowerPoint for their bad presentations, it’s improper use of the application that’s the real problem.
You don’t have to be a slave to dense slides crammed with text. Instead of reading from a script teleprompter-style, employ slide as visual prompts with economical text and quality photography to reinforce what you’re saying and really engage your audience.
While direct conversation certainly has its merits as a way of communicating and persuading, PowerPoint has endured as a ubiquitous presenting tool for good reason: it enables you to tell a story in powerful, visual way that’s impossible to achieve with just speaking alone.