Guest Posting: The 3 Myths of Presentations That Will Destroy Your Credibility, by David McGimpsey

David McGimpseyDavid McGimpsey is a communication skills trainer. He specializes in coaching business people to deliver compelling presentations which sell, persuade, and entertain. His popular blog can be found at
presentationblogger.com. To read more about how to improve your presentation skills, check out David’s book: PowerPoint Doesn’t Suck, You Do: The counter-intuitive approach to compelling presentations.

There’s no nice way to say this. Your presentation sucks.

The good news is, it’s not your fault.

The coaches, the trainers, the gurus, and the presentation “experts.” They’ve all been giving you bad advice.

They’ve been leading you up the garden path, giving you the advice they think you want to hear.

And importantly, giving the wrong advice that makes them money. Money through training fees or money through book sales.

Here are the top 3 myths the “experts” want you to believe.

Myth 1: Your slide deck must be awesome

The gurus want you to believe that your slides need to be Steve Jobs’ standard or your presentation is destined for the trash can.

At best, this advice lacks context. At worst, it’s plain wrong.

Here’s the thing:

An awesome Steve Jobs’ standard slide deck can enhance a good talk delivered by a good presenter. An awesome Steve Jobs’ standard slide deck can do nothing with a rough talk delivered by nervous presenter.

And while we’re talking about Steve Jobs, the gurus will have you believe that what made his delivery so good were his slides. Thing is, remove the slides and his delivery is still as good as it always was. The slides are just there to add impact. If the slides are the main event then the presenter is unnecessary.

Here’s the rule: the slides are there to support you, not the other way around. You are not there to support your slides. Get your talk right first and then build your slide deck to enhance your talk.

Myth 2: Write out a script and memorize it

Rubbish!

For most business presentations you are setting yourself up for failure by creating a script.

People write out scripts when they don’t want to make any mistakes. And if you’re doing a performance presentation (like a TED talk or a keynote speech) a script might make sense.

But for a business presentation, it’s an impediment. Here’s why:

In your day-to-day work you have many competing priorities. On top of your upcoming presentation, you’ve also got your regular tasks to complete, incidental meetings and phone calls, plus any special projects you happen to be working on.

With all these different priorities vying for your attention, writing out a script and memorizing it is impractical. Firstly, writing out a script, and the amount of practice required to memorize it, involves time that you probably don’t have. And secondly, your strategy of memorization to minimize mistakes is folly. The more focused you are on not making mistakes the more likely it is that you’ll make them.

To prepare for your presentation you should avoid the scripts. Focus instead on elaborating on the 3 most important points likely to lead the audience where you need them to go. As the person chosen to deliver this presentation you are the subject matter expert, so your preparation involves simply drafting out your three main talking points and surrounding that with a opening and closing.

Myth 3: You should practice your body language

Giraffe ice skating with bananas skins.

Imagine you are in a social situation.

You’re telling your friends a story. Maybe you’re relaying a story about your kids, something that happened to you at the mall, or a surprising event at work.

When you talk to your friends, are you thinking about how you gesture with your hands?

No. You know the details of the story you are telling and your hands naturally gesture, subconsciously helping you explain your story.

When it comes to business presentations, the trainers and gurus tell us that we should practice our gestures and body language.

This is faulty advice.

When you practice your gestures you have to link a word you say to the gesture you do. This results in wildly un-natural hand movements. For example, open your arms wide when you say the word “big”.

Looking at this in the isolation of one word it seems to make sense. When it’s an entire business presentation (lots of words together) it starts to look practiced and robotic.

Additionally, you have the added stress of trying to remember what to do as well as what
to say.

Don’t practice your body language. Focus on knowing your subject matter well and the message you need to get across. If you do this, and maintain an open body position during your talk, the gestures will happen naturally.

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