The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

COACH | PUBLIC SPEAKING

June 2014
Bad Presentation
Skills Break Your Brand
By Dr. Greg Story

When we present, be it in an internal meeting or in the public arena, our personal brand is being evaluated. In the case of public presentations, there are two brands being scrutinized: ours and our organization’s.

We judge companies and organizations based on our exposure to their people. In a public setting, we leave the presentation either impressed or otherwise, based on the performance of the representative. Uh oh!

Every month, I attend about eight to 10 public presentations and, as a public speaker, I have conducted nearly 500. I see simple things that detract from the message because the delivery is so unprofessional. We know that when the delivery component of what is being said and the message itself don’t match, the message is almost totally lost.

The irony is that the worst offenders continue to bang away regardless. They believe that the quality will outweigh any personal flaws they may have in getting the message across. “My content is good so I don’t have to be a good presenter”, “The quality of the information is more important than some mumbo jumbo presentation skills”, or “I know I am not a good speaker, but people came here for the data, not for me.”

Delusional is the best word to describe this thinking!

Make no mistake, we judge you and your data. We make assumptions about your professionalism and your organization’s credibility based on what we see and hear.

Bosses: please do not send technical experts to speak publicly, who are clueless and guaranteed to tear your brand asunder. Give them the proper training, prepare them, and make them a brand ambassador and a brand saint!

Below are some recent presentation examples where mistakes easily could have been avoided.

A reasonable presentation by someone who had extensive experience in the industry was severely diminished by three errors.

The first was to use the screen as a prompt for the content. He ignored the audience and looked back toward the screen, thereby surrendering the opportunity to make eye contact with the audience.

Turning your back on your listeners precludes you from watching for their reactions or to drive home the key points by using your “eye power.”

The second problem was a common one: the misuse of Microsoft PowerPoint. Too much detail on a screen is hard to digest, it diffuses the key point being made, and distracts from you, the main part of the presentation.

That is right: you are the main part of the presentation, not what is on the screen. We buy you and your information or point of view comes with the purchase.

Another unfathomable choice was the use of color. Red on black is always going to be a losing proposition from a message clarity point of view, especially on a busy screen.

Regarding projection tools, another presentation I attended used a wall-mounted whiteboard as the screen. Too much reflection of strong white projector light off the shiny whiteboard, combined with black text on a white slide background produced snow blindness. The content became insipid and hard to read.

A better choice would have been white text on a dark-blue background for contrast; a relatively simple but highly effective change.

Another self-inflicted wound to the hapless hero’s personal brand was Q&A time. We are all 100 percent in control during our presentations, but this is all out the window once the floor is opened up to questions. If you know what you are doing, you never lose control of the proceedings, even when you plunge into the black hole of question time.

Now on to another day, a different presentation, and a different set of unforced errors.

Take careful note of the venue at which you will be speaking. If you are trained properly, the layout will tell you immediately what you need to do to accommodate the various peculiarities on offer. This particular venue was special; quite wide but not so deep, with the screen in the middle.

The speaker chose to use a microphone when, for the size and layout of the venue and the power of his voice, it wasn’t necessary.

Use a microphone when you need to be heard, otherwise give up the option. Using a microphone means you have only one hand free for gestures and are often locked into the positioning of the microphone on the podium so you are restricting yourself.

Further, the propensity is to get stuck behind the podium! This means half your body is no longer visible to the audience so you are unnecessarily giving up access to half of your body language.

Shorter people should be very careful. I have seen many a combination of high podiums and a bobbing talking head, just making it above the waterline—not a great look.

Arrive early and check how you will look from the bleachers, before you get up to speak. Ask the organizers to get you something to stand on or, even better, get rid of the podium.

The final nail in the coffin for our speaker was his foot placement. When we stand with our feet facing a certain angle to the audience, our upper body is positioned so we are unconsciously favoring one side of the room. Our speaker ignored half his audience.

Better to stand with the feet facing at 90 degrees to the audience (this means our shoulders will face nicely forward) and just rotate your head, so your eyes can use their “eye power” with every pocket area of the room.

The final example, this time done by a group of speakers, was the high-risk nature of technology.

Video and audio are great—when they work properly. There is nothing as brand destructive as when your IT person is one of the speakers and they can’t get the equipment to work.

Make sure that the benefit of using video is worth the risk. If it isn’t really, really central, then just drop it and replace it with something a million times more powerful: you!

If you do need it, then load all the speakers’ videos on one laptop (and have a fully loaded back-up), embed the video (don’t even think of using Wi-Fi) and test it beforehand, for all presentations.

If something goes wrong anyway, don’t grab the toolbox and try get under the hood. Rather, abandon the video and just tell your audience the key points you wanted to get across.

Keep tap dancing and move onward! Don’t let your audience become bored contemplating the hair on top of your head (even if ravishing and luxuriant) while you visibly panic with eyes looking down at the keyboard.

These are a few examples of brand destroying, unforced errors from the front line that can be easily fixed. There is no excuse: get clued up, get the training, and stop embarrassing yourself and your organization.

Greg

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Dr. Greg Story is president of Dale Carnegie Training Japan.

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