Of the various titles I’ve held in my career, myth-buster actually hasn’t been one of them. Yet when I teach the Association for Talent Development's (ATD) Presentation Skills Certificate program and other presentation courses and workshops, I find myself “busting” a lot of myths about presentation practices.
So many businesspeople who are tasked with making presentations, even at senior levels, have never had any formal training in how to engage an audience, manage anxiety and get a message across effectively. It’s no wonder presentation myths are so prevalent.
Some of the common myths I encounter are easily corrected:
Myth:: Admitting to your audience that you're nervous helps calm your anxiety.
Reality :: Would you want your airline pilot to tell you he's nervous at the beginning of your flight? I didn't think so. Don't make it about you. Your audience wants and expects to receive value by spending time with you. Telling them you're nervous makes them uncomfortable and compromises your credibility. Learn to manage your nervousness and keep this secret to yourself.
Myth:: You shouldn't use your hands when you talk.
Reality:: Hand gestures are like punctuation for your words. If you typically use hand gestures when you speak you will look awkward and inauthentic if you try and squash them during a presentation. Hand gestures also convey enthusiasm and energy. If you don't typically use them, consider adding a few in strategic parts of your presentation to increase impact.
Myth:: Look at a point just over the audience’s heads and they will think you're making eye contact with them.
Reality :: Unless your audience has their collective eyes closed, it will be pretty easy to see that you're not looking anyone in the eye. Intentional eye contact enhances your credibility and trustworthiness. Make eye contact for 3-5 seconds with one person and then move on to someone else.
Now those myths were relatively simple to deal with. Other myths require more attention and practice to bust:
Myth:: You shouldn’t use notes during your presentation.
Myth:: Start a presentation by introducing yourself.
Myth:: Your slide deck is a good handout for the audience.
Myth:: Finish your presentation with a Q&A session.
Myth:: It’s best to memorize your presentation so you won’t forget important details.
Myth:: Bullet points on your slides should include full sentences and punctuation.
Since presentations have become the accepted way of communicating in our business world presentation myths are transmitted quickly and easily like a contagious virus throughout and between organizations. Every time you speak in front of a group you can perpetuate the myths by using the same old presentation practices that disengage the audience and may even limit your career. Or you have the opportunity to change minds and influence perspectives by delivering a clear, powerful and memorable message.
If you’re interested in busting some of the presentation myths you may be operating with, join me at one of my upcoming ATD Presentation Skills Certificate programs and learn how to be a more engaging, confident presenter.
flickr/The Unicorn C.C. 2.0