Getting up in front of people and speaking may not always be as easy as strolling in a park on a warm Sunday afternoon. Sometimes, it may feel more like a bigger challenge you find yourself immersed in.
Our experience with our clients show that, people are usually afraid of making one, two or all of 3 familiar and most common presentation mistakes when they start speaking in front of an audience. Like with almost everything in life, these mistakes come with good news and bad news.
The bad news is, that they have the potential to destroy a presentation into pieces in an instant. All your work may go down the drain in a matter of seconds, and what's worse, is that you'll be given a front-row seat to witness it happening right before you.
The good news though, is that every single one of these 3 undesired situations are completely preventable. It just requires just a small trick.
Here are the 3 most common presentation ruiners:
It is almost certain that you will feel a bit anxious before any kind of an audience. But when your level of anxiety exceeds manageable levels, uncontrolled body movements, forgetting what to say next, and even temporary stuterring may come into the picture. It's a downward spiral, and unfortunately many of us have been there before. It is very difficult situation to recover from.
Know that it is perfectly normal to feel nervous or uneasy before you walk in front of an audience and try to deliver your best performance. But also know that, presentation is mostly a rehearsed performance. Also, you usually know beforehand when you will be delivering a speech on what subject. Take the time to craft your speech and practice enough times. Without being an extreme pessimist, try to imagine the ways your presentation can go wrong. Then, come up with recovery strategies that you can apply on the spot. Try to remember that taking a deep breath has a calming and almost "resetting" effect on your body. Use it frequently before and during your presentations and you'll keep your stress levels low.
2) Communication Accidents
Yes, we all have been involved in one of these accidents as well. Sometimes we were the guilty party, sometimes we were just innocently passing by. These communication accidents may range from minor fender-bender collisions to unexpected total losses. And all it takes is one word, one sentence, one phrase that may come out of our mouth. Our intenion may be well natured, but depending on the situation, the outcome may turn out to be quite disastrous. Many political leaders do these kinds of gaffes or blunders all the time. Luckily for them, they have large PR agencies or expert speech writers behind, guiding them in the next clever move. We may have no instant access to such vital resources during our next presentation. Therefore, it is important to know how to handle, or better yet, how not to cause a communication accident in the first place.
If you find yourself involved in such an accident, remain calm. As long as you are there with good intentions, people will give you a chance to re-explain yourself and clarify any misunderstandings. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain, from simply saying these words: "I'm sorry." (Remember to take a deep breath before and after. It really helps!)
In order to prevent these encounters in the first place, again, writing down and practicing our presentation many times helps us tremendously. Gaffes and blunders technically require that we don't know exactly what we'll be saying next. Investing the time to rehearse our speech many times gives us the comfort of knowing where we are in our speech at any moment. We know what's coming next. We know our upcoming sentences.
Einstein once said that time is relative. We couldn't agree more. When we take the stage in front of people, soon we realize that the time we think has passed is way different than reality. Sometimes it is slower, sometimes it is faster. For example, you see that although you are halfway through your 10 minute speech and think that you have been on the stage for 5 minutes. In reality though, it has been a whole nine minutes, and you only have a very small amount of time to finish. When this happens, speakers usually tend to start speaking faster, much much faster, and this helps nothing but distract the audience and disconnect you from them.
If you find yourself in this situation, remain calm. Take a deep breath as always. Then, quickly scan your material to see which parts you can skip. But do not do this by fast forwarding the presentation and saying things like "Well, we are over time and we actually didn't need these slides in the beginning." It shows that you haven't prepared enough. It also makes the audience to question why those slides were there in the first place if you didn't need them. Instead, if you know the number of the slide you want to land on, you can enter it on the keyboard during the presentation and hit Enter key. The software will directly take you to that slide jumping the ones in between. (Both PowerPoint and Keynote support this feature.)
To prevent this situation from happening in the first place, we strongly advise to rehearse your presentation while timing yourself simultaneously. For example, if you will be delivering a 20 minute speech, set a timer for 20 minutes but do not stop if you go overtime. Let the clock run, finish your presentation, and see how much overtime you are. Then, trim your presentation accordingly, and this time use a stopwatch to see how long your presentation will take. Also, in order to prevent becoming a time relativity victim on the stage, make sure you practice around 25 times before getting up on the stage. This way, you will both get very, very familiar with your subject, and you will also know exactly how long your speech takes. Remember, that the audience will not yell at you for speaking 3-4 minutes short of the allotted time, but they will not be very fond of you if you keep talking and going overtime.
These presentation mistakes are very common. And, you might remember that we talked about a small trick to prevent them. The trick is practicing and rehearsing your presentation. And again... And again... And again...
We probably couldn't stress this enough, but we are quite serious about it. For other reasons behind, watch Matt's video on Practicing 25 Times here.
About Alper Rozanes
Alper graduated from Baruch College in New York with a degree in management information systems. He loves to cook (his specialty is oven-baked honey mustard salmon). Among his other hobbies are tennis, bowling, and jumping from known flying objects at 10.000 feet.