The majority of people who come to Presentation Excellence to help improve their “presentation effectiveness” tend to focus on two issues:
- The extent to which their presentation is compelling – which means understanding its content, flow, design and ability to address any audience reactance and situational constraints which would impact significantly on how a message is absorbed.
- Their own ability to present powerfully, since many experience speaker anxiety. (Remember fear of public speaking is the number one fear people have, and is the reason that, as jerry Seinfeld noted, at funerals “people would rather be in the box than giving the eulogy!”).
How we present ourselves has become even more important since the pandemic started, because so many presentations are done virtually, often showing only our heads, which means we can’t manage our body language as we do in a live-presentation. Many of our colleagues focus on helping people set up their “zoom rooms” to help demonstrate their professionalism, and train themselves to look straight “into the eyes” of the other Zoom attendants.
However, more important is our speech pattern –e.g., clarity, pacing, timber, modulating volume, keeping thoughts short and using breaths to allow people to absorb key points. This is especially the case when we’re giving presentations – such as webinars and podcasts – where our body and face and not present or prominent. This point was brought home to me this summer, by two events.
I’ve known for years that when I’m excited to share something that I think will really help my audience, I unconsciously raise my volume to “make sure they heard” the point. Whether live or virtually, I generally manage it well. But suddenly, people were telling me I was shouting. Surprised to hear it I reflected on whether I was exceptionally excited, and then realized that there probably was a change in the speaker system I was using. I just moved my office and changed my equipment and sure enough the settings were off. Thanks for the feedback! Now that doesn’t happen again.
Also, I read the Wall Street Journal’s article, Why Do We Shout When We Argue, which highlighted a second factor: our lack of confidence. While we all “know” that shouting doesn’t actually persuade anyone, and often has the opposite effect, Vanessa Bohns noted that researchers have found that when people lack confidence, they tend to shout, “ While we often are over-confident in our beliefs, the tendency to shout…comes from under-confidence in our ability to convince others.”
This “shouting” can take several forms, in addition to just speaking louder and faster. Thinking this will help impress the audience, presenters often “raise their vocabulary” – using larger words and more jargon. In the design of their presentation, they compensate by using more text, and detailed charts and tables than are needed – often weakening the impact of their presentation. And, from a speech standpoint they raise volume when they think their losing the audience’s attention thinking that by shouting they will get more attention.
As we note in our training programs, less is more, and that applies to the amount of slides, text per slide, and details per chart and table. The key is to provide the key information in a way that the audience wants to receive it – and not shout it out. Indeed, when you dropping your volume on something important, audiences will give you more attention in order to make sure they heard it. And if you want them to totally absorb an idea, taking a pause gives them the break needed to do so – and is likely to help you persuade your audience.
So the next time you present, think through both the presentation you designed and the delivery. And ask for feedback so you can avoid “shouting” in both areas!