With all due respect, some irritating phrases will annoy your audience!

Certain phrases are guaranteed to turn-off an audience

by Peter Watts

“With all due respect……”

“I’m sorry, but…….”

“Look, I just want to say…….”

These are the phrases that when we hear them spoken, make us want to lovingly reach through our television screens and strangle whoever it is that has just uttered them!

I have a word for these phrases. Collectively I call them “winders” in that whenever they are used, someone is going to wind up becoming distinctly wound up!

A winder can be defined as any phrase that belittles the person against whom it is aimed. It suggests an air of smug superiority on the part of the individual who has used it, and if you listen carefully as the winder is delivered, you will hear that is accompanied by a slight sigh, as the deliverer condescends to be involved with such a lesser mortal.

Winders, in presentations, are bad news! There can be no quicker way to completely lose the support of your audience than to irritate them. So, how to avoid such a mistake?

First, know what are the phrases that act as winders on you! If they annoy you, there is a strong chance that they annoy others. Try listening to politicians being interviewed on the radio for an endless supply! The time that you are most likely to hear them is if the interview is not going well, and the politician suddenly feels the need to defend themselves. It is in this heat of battle context that the winders come exploding forth!

Secondly, approach audiences or interviewers with a sense of humility. If the audience feels that you respect them, then there is a significantly lower chance that they in turn, will do anything to provoke you. With fewer provocations, come fewer winders!

In this final point we can see something ironic within the nature of the winder. We use them when someone else has already provoked us into doing so. Frequently, the intended victim well and truly asked for it, deserved it, and got it….. right between the eyes! It is not however, from this deserving victim that the presenter will them find themselves damned; it is from the wider audience! Like the sound of fingernails being dragged down a blackboard, winders not only affect those at whom they are aimed, but also affect everyone within hearing distance.

Verbally, they are weapons of mass destruction, and as with all WMD’s, they are best kept out of commission!

Time waits for no man, and in controlling presentation timings, neither should you!

by Peter Watts

Presenting involves a contract between audience and presenter, and clearly stated starting and ending times are a key part of that contract. Compliance with these requirements is an important indicator of the health of that contract and the respect that both sides have for each other.

Start on Time

As presenter you control the room. You are going to be that group’s leader for however long you keep the stage. As with all groups, there is an initial period of gentle testing where the group explores the behavioral boundaries around them. “How firm is the leader going to be?” “Do they stick to their promises?” “Who is in charge?”

Although frequently sub-conscious, these questions are all hanging around the room, and there is no truer way of testing out the answers than by testing the area of time! If members of the audience are late, and you wait for them, then you allow power to transfer from yourself, to them. If you stick to your guns however and start regardless, then you retain the power balance for yourself, and late-comers become merely that; late!

Courtesy

If you hold up proceedings till all the laggards have assembled then the individuals who did extend you the courtesy of an on-time arrival rapidly learn that there is no reward for being on schedule. Your priority is to those who were on time. Don’t keep them waiting for others.

Finish on time

As important as starting on time, is finishing on time. While the start time is all about the audience extending courtesy to the presenter, it is by respecting the stated finish time that the presenter repays that respect. If the presentation is to last 30 minutes, then keep it to 30 minutes! Presenters who over-run are rewarded with seat-shuffling and increasingly exaggerated watch-checking.

What about the VIP?

I started out this blog by talking about power, and how within the presentation environment you are the leader. Where does this leave VIP members of the audience and what to do if it’s the head-honcho who is the tardy one?

The subject of the power dynamic between presenters and VIP’s would take up a whole extra blog, so I will restrict this point purely to the area of time-keeping.

If you are presenting, and you know that there is an especially important person in the room who must be there to hear what you have to say, then it would be foolish to start without them. The mere fact that someone in authority is abusing that position by being late rather than setting a positive example by being on time already indicates that they have a powerful sense of ego, so it would be a mistake to deliberately attempt to deflate that ego, tempting as it might be.

There is however, a half-way house that will allow you to start on time, while still waiting for the late VIP. The technique is to start a discussion with your audience while you are waiting so that the awkward gap becomes productively filled.

  • Welcome your audience as you would normally, thanking them for attending, and briefly outlining the presentation agenda and objectives.
  • State that you are going to wait a few more moments for Mr or Ms X to arrive, and then immediately tell the audience that in order to use this time productively, you would like to go around the table and find something out from them.
  • Use the ensuing discussion time to find out something relevant to your presentation. You have full control of what this subject will be; It could be their past experience with a product or process, their key objectives for the presentation, or their opinions about key challenges and opportunities faced.
  • Select a subject area that supports the thrust of your presentation, and avoid contentious areas that might detract from your message.
  • As you facilitate the discussion, capture key points onto a flip-chart so that they then remain visible for the rest of the session.

When the late VIP does then arrive, you can welcome them cordially, gently close down the discussion, and move into the planned body of your presentation. What has happened though is that you are now starting from a position of vastly increased strength. By being late, the VIP has given you the chance to work the room and develop a rapport with their team. You now have comments and people that you can refer back to for support as you present.

Above all, you kept control of the process, and without inflaming anyone’s egos, remained in charge of the room!


Watch and learn for how to improve your presentation skills

Watching other people presenting is a great way to improve your own presentation style

by Peter Watts

Frequently when we find ourselves sitting in meetings and watching presentations, we regard it as something of a chore, quietly checking our watches to see how long it is to the next break. Instead, every time we are sitting in an audience it is an opportunity to observe the presenter, build up ideas about what works and what doesn’t work, and then apply that to our own style when it comes to being at the front of the room.

The next time you attend a presentation try to analyze how the presenter is conveying, or not conveying, their message. Pay close attention to:

The structure

Is there a clear beginning, middle, and end to the presentation? As an audience member, do you feel comfortable that the presenter has provided you with a clear route-map of their goals and objectives?

The message

Is there a consistent message running through the presentation so that the content all hangs together logically?

The style

Does the presenter have body language and voice control that serves to underline the message and bring emphasis to key points, as well as making the presentation vivid and easy to listen to?

When you see something that you admire, make a note of it and try to model it in your own  sessions. The very fact that you admire it indicates that it is something of which you yourself are fully capable. At the same time, if there is something you don’t like, or that you find confusing, you are seeing something that you should be working to avoid.

In this way, presentations in which we sit in the audience, be they in business, at PTA meetings, or even in places of worship, all become informal training opportunities. Every presenter has their strengths, and indeed, their weaknesses. Observing these strengths and weaknesses with our full attention is a great way to literally, watch and learn!

In large audience presentations, a microphone lets your voice be heard

by Peter Watts

When speaking to an audience, it’s not only important that the people at the back of the room can hear our words, they need to be able to hear our voice as well.

It might sound like these two elements are one and the same thing, but they are actually different.

Our voices convey our message with a variety of nuances. There is the light and shade of our tone, the emphasis of our volume, and the indicators of our pitch. All of these attributes combine to make the voice into a rich and infinitely varied tool.

When speaking to a moderately sized group of up to 30 people, then it’s within the power of most of us to project the voice while maintaining it’s quality. As groups and rooms become larger however, that ability starts to break down.

If the opportunity arises, stand at the back of a large group of people and listen to the voice of someone presenting to them. You’ll notice that although you can probably hear what they are saying, the distance involved means the voice has become thin and drawn out, with a slightly uncomfortable echo as the speaker tries to force up the volume and reach the back of the room. All the bass notes have become lost along the way, and it’s difficult to feel any connection to the person delivering them.

At the same time, for the poor speaker, the effort of speaking at full volume is tiring them, making the voice become ever more difficult to hear.

If these presenters had the opportunity to go back in time and plan their sessions again, they would have requested a microphone. It’s a remarkably simple thing to overlook and many of us, never having heard ourselves from the back of the room, wouldn’t realize how much a large group of people can dissipate sound.

If you are being asked to speak at a venue that can hold more than thirty people, then the chances are that they will also have a sound system available. If you have a choice, use a radio microphone rather than a handheld or fixed version that will interfere with your freedom of movement. As with all aspects presentational, it’s a good idea to arrive at the venue early and have a sound check first, so that from your first words the volume is correctly set.

Many presenters are accustomed to spending time ensuring that their slides are going to be clear and visible at the back of the room. It’s equally important to ensure that our voices are too.


Presentation mission + belief = PASSION

by Peter Watts

“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…..”

These words launch many a spy story. The key elements I would like to pick out for your consideration are:

“Your mission”

and

“Choose to accept it”

Every presentation is a mission, and for that mission to succeed you must bring your total commitment to it.  We want audiences to believe in us and the case we are making. For this to happen, we need to do two things:

  • Know what our mission is
  • Choose to both fully accept it, and own it

Your mission

The word “mission” sounds similar to “envision”, and we want audiences to be able to clearly envision the positive outcomes that our recommended course of action will produce.

In doing this, we can sometimes be tempted to believe we can let “the facts speak for themselves”, but this is a mistake. Facts and figures are merely secondary indicators of something else; they are evidence that we have achieved a mission, but are seldom the mission itself. For example, achieving a 100% customer satisfaction rate is a great metric, but why? What does that gain? A 50% increase in sales is very worthy, but why? How does that help the business?

Supporters rally to a flag, never to a number. What is the mission you are waving before them?

Choose to accept it

The mission must be whole-heartedly embraced. Where does this mission connect with either our organization, department, or with ourselves as unique individuals? If you share that connection with the audience then you reveal a part of your own belief system that adds tremendous weight to your message. As James Kouzes and Barry Posner state in their book “The Leadership Challenge”:

“You can’t believe the messenger if you don’t know what the messenger believes.”

The best public speaking is always accompanied by passion; and passion is conjured from mission and belief as surely as the name Martin Luther King conjures the words “I have a dream”

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