When 3 meters is just too far
Have you ever been in a room, with a group of colleagues, clients or business partners, sat around the table computer in front of you – preferably open (this provides a nice barrier that helps protect us … I imagine)?
So you chat away about the weather and what’s happening in business, sip on coffee, the atmosphere is light and almost friendly… and then the hammer falls –
OK now Fred is going to present XXX to you …
Fred, slowly gets up, laboriously carrying his computer to the front of the room, carefully leaving his personality and his confidence where he was sitting.
The former chatty and smiling person becomes stricken with fear that pulls his face into a rictus, makes him almost stutter, whilst searching for his words, which are lost in a never-seen-before indistinct mumbling.
So what happened? What went wrong? Where is Fred?
Fred is now stood just 3 meters from where he was happily and confidently speaking just a few minutes ago. 3 meters!
This isn’t the first time that this has happened, he often feels like this.
There was no surprise, Fred knew he had a presentation to give, he knows the audience and he knows his subject inside out – he is, in fact, the best person in the company to do this presentation. Or is he?
The problem is that Fred is projecting a less than positive image of himself and the company – try as they may, the audience will be really challenged to look past the nervous presenter and feel confident with Fred and the company.
And this happens to so many professionals, people who are excellent at their jobs, but who, all too often, sell themselves short.
The key is in the preparation.
People often spend a lot of time on the preparation of their Powerpoint, Prezi or Keynote slides, on the substance of their presentation – their subject, but little time on the structure and even less on themselves as a speaker or the message they want to get across, completely forgetting the impression they want to leave with the audience.
Regrettably, presenters often forget about the most important people in the room – the audience.
They also forget to prepare themselves for “getting on stage”, which is what they are doing when presenting, and no actor or performer would ever dream of setting a foot on stage without preparing themselves – voice, relaxation and focus.
The majority of presenters do this, oh-so-often, and expect to get away with it – which they rarely do.
If we believe in the theory of Primacy, which argues that we remember the first things we see and hear, then it may be worth preparing the start of a presentation, don’t you think? You know, the idea that first impressions count – and often stick.
Recency is a theory which states that we remember the last things we see and hear, as these things remain in working memory – the last thing we see, hear or feel, or at least the most recent.
I would argue that in a presentation we remember things that we learn and how we felt – bored, enthused, confident, lacking confidence etc.
We know that Fred is good at his job, knows his subject and is able to talk effectively about it (as long as he isn’t stood up in front of an audience that is …), most presenters demonstrate this by having a good ‘middle‘ in their presentations.
The middle is when the stress of the start is over and the presenter starts talking about the things that they know about, and hopefully enjoy, such as their jobs, services or products.
So, what about the start and finish?
We generally choose to read a book by several principle reasons:
- The cover attracts us.
- Recommendation from others.
- The author – who tels the story.
- The first few pages that capture us.
- The way the story is crafted.
- How we felt whilst reading the story.
Virtually the same phenomena can be applied to presentations, think about it.
If the end of the presentation is flat, we may remember that and not the good stuff that went before it – similar to finding that book at a car-boot sale, only to find that the last page from that great book has been torn out, and how annoying is that!
If the presentation started badly (which is often the case), we may have problems staying focused, or to even bother listening – was the iPhone and the Blackberry invented for these moments?
Audiences are usually made up of people who are empathetic to the plight of a presenter – up to a point.
An audience will happily help out a person who is struggling with stress – hey, we’ve all been there – ‘there but for the grace of God…’ etc.
But, as soon as a presenter starts to bore an audience, starts fidgeting or worse still, tells the audience that they are stressed (the audience already knew this anyway) then their patience wears thin and they are just not prepared to help out.
The Pareto is simple – 80% preparation (at least) to 20% presentation (at most), I would include in the 80% about 10% for the Powerpoint / Keynote / Prezi preparation, so you know where the rest of the time should be spent – on the audience and You as the presenter.
How close are you to this?