I thought, “A lot of speakers use crutches. They’re being held back by them. Ya gotta help them, Mike. It’s your duty to kick those crutches out from under them!”
So, here goes, time to kick out any crutches you may be leaning on when you give presentations. I apologize for any short-term discomfort it may cause, but I promise the long-term benefits will be worth the pain.
What are common crutches speakers use:
1) Power Point [by far, this is the grand-daddy of all crutches]
2) Pre-scripted speeches, neatly typed in 10-point font, word-for-word
3) iPAd, iPhone [or similar devices] .
Typically, the misuse of these tools leads to lack of audience interest, missed connections, lost opportunities, and ultimately, a negative feeling about public speaking.
Am I saying never use these devices. Yes, actually, I am; better to avoid using them than to misuse them and cause the problems just mentioned. But, I know the world is going to use them despite my protestations. If I can help you learn to use them only sporadically, and trust your own skills as a communicator, then I’ve made a (slightly) significant contribution to humanity [and desperately bored audiences everywhere].
With regard to Power Point, countless articles have been written about how misused it is, no need to belabor that point. Keep these points in mind to make Power Point a tool that aids, and doesn’t destroy, your presentation:
1) Eliminate all words. Words can be spoken. Delivered in a conversational and dynamic manner, the spoken word beats the written word every time.
2) Use pictures, graphs or images which support your ideas. Pictures convey many emotions which words sometimes can’t. Do be sure these images support your main point, and don’t detract from it.
3) Use minimum number of slides [1 slide for at least 5 minutes is a good ratio].
For the speech that is written and read word-for-word, is there a more exhilarating experience? You’re right, the list of preferable alternatives is endless. What can you learn from the people who insist on this manner of presenting?
First, you can’t talk with an audience if you’re reading at them. Better to send them your speech in an email and let them read it from the comfort of their living room.
Second, it is OK to keep notes handy. I believe that you need to know your material. It doesn’t look professional to keep reading your material. However, you’re human. If you occasionally ‘go brain dead’ it’s OK to refer to your notes and then get back to your talk. Speakers who memorize their speeches yet come across as ‘canned’ or unnatural typically don’t make a good impression. Why? Because, they’re so focused on what they’re going to say, who are they focused on? Themselves. Where should they be focused? That’s right, on the people sitting in front of them.
If you have to occasionally refer to notes to insure a key point is conveyed, no one will get upset. In fact, they’ll appreciate the information. Some highly paid and successful professional speakers use notes, yet, still maintain connection with the audience. The point is, if you read the speech instead of talking with them and keeping them engaged, you lose connection, and your message will be lost.
One tool that works for me is to make bullet point notes on 3×5 or 4×6 index cards. If you’ve practiced and internalized your speech, a quick glance at your notes will help you get back on track if you stumble.
As far as iPads, iPhones and other similar devices are concerned, they’ve created a new generation of speakers who are now looking down at the device in their hand when they speak, rather than making eye contact with the audience.
Don’t misunderstand. I love my iPad, it’s a valuable tool. Just don’t use it to replace your PowerPoint or speech notes, because the effect is the same on the audience – no connection. Use it to create images that support your message, play cool music while you’re walking to the front of the room, or put a big clock in front of you to stay on time.
The bottom line is you don’t need these crutches. Properly used, they might help bring life to your message, but they are not the message itself. YOU are. For your next talk, rehearse and internalize your message, trust that you know your subject, don’t worry about being perfect [instead, be personable], and keep a few notes handy, just in case.
Oh yeah, one more thing… throw away the crutches.
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