Friday, April 16, 2010

The dark side of presentation technique

I just read an entry in Nick Morgan's blog see:
The top 10 list of speakers audience abuse! Yes, we've all seen these. Nice list. I was thinking about some of this stuff a few weeks ago when I listened to lots of talks over a period of some days. There was one speaker that was excellent in many respects. He had great charisma, an important message, backed up by a lot of experience and credibility. His body language was relaxed and friendly and everything seem great. But I found myself drifting off time and time again and I missed big chunks of what he was saying. So pretty soon I started wondering why. After some thought I realised that it could only really be one thing: he was speaking really fast. Since then I've heard a couple more people do exactly the same thing, they are also good speakers with authority and presence. For me at least, this is quite a barrier to getting through. It signals lack of preparation. It gives the impression that they are going to run over time even when they've just started and you get appropriately nervous over this. Not many people can talk fast without exuding stress with every syllable they pronounce. Even if everything else is good I start to feel exhausted after a while and need a break from listening. It also stops you from really digesting what is said. When we hear other people's words all of us have our own unique set of associations, pictures and follow-up thoughts in our heads. We're neither on the same straight track as the speaker, nor always capable of keeping up with the pace they set and many of our own sidetracks are more important to us than the speaker's train of thought. So speaking very fast is way, way off. On the contrary, you need to speak far slower than you normally would. Let people get used to your accent and voice and give them time to follow their sidetracks and come back to you again.

I could make a list of things that indicate to me that the speaker is there for their own good and not the audience's. One of these would certainly be speaking very fast. Then of course there's a bunch of things that are on Nick's list. Like not even looking at the audience for instance. Then there are a few things that are just plain annoying and distracting. Like waving the laser pointer around wildly and drawing circles and arrows in the air that only you can see inside your head! Or pacing and hopping back and forth repeatedly. Movement is tremendously distracting but you can take advantage of that and use it in a constructive way. Lots of ideas about this! But now I'll quit whining and try to come up with some constructive thoughts :)

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