How to give a presentation: (3) communication, stupid

One of the services that FJWilson Talent Services offers is presentation training. Here our presentation coach, Anthony Haynes, gives the third in a series of concise, practical, tips.

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In my previous post, I recommended reflecting on presentations you’ve observed in order to generate a list of things not to do in your own presentation.

But I need now to introduce a distinction between (a) preparation and (b) implementation.

The list I mention above is very useful when you are preparing a presentation. If, for example, you’ve written on your list ‘Avoid looking backwards at my slides’ then you should certainly think about that whilst preparing your presentation. You might, for example, decide to use fewer slides or build in more interactive episodes that force you to look at the audience — asking them questions, for example.

But when, however, it comes to implementation — to actually giving the presentation — it is no longer useful to think about such things. In act, doing so is likely to be counter-productive.

Here’s why. First, there a psychological problem. If you keep telling yourself not to do X, you will in effect keep putting the idea of X into your mind — with the result that you may become more likely to do X. (I learnt this playing cricket: if I kept telling myself not to play a shot, I ended up playing it!)

Second, there is a problem of focus. Resources on how to give a presentation frequently give people a whole list of instructions: ‘Don’t stand with your hands in your pockets!’; ‘Don’t wave your arms around’; and so on.

Such lists are well-intentioned and each item on the list may (perhaps) be sensible, But if when you are giving a presentation your attention is focused on a list of do’s and don’ts in your head, it will not — cannot — be focused on the thing, the only thing, that matters, namely communicating with the audience.

If you focus your attention entirely on ensuring that you’re communicating, you will be doing the thing that matter — and, as a bonus, you’ll find that all those other things (not putting your hands in your pockets, for example) have a habit of going away.

By ‘going away’, I mean either that you don’t do them or that you do, but nobody worries about them — because the¬†audience too is focused on the communication.

So, for the actual presentation, my recommended list of do’s and don’ts has no don’ts and only one do, namely:


Next in the series: how to introduce yourself — and how not to.

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