Founder & Principal of SmartMouth Communications, a consulting, coaching and training firm that creates better messages and messengers.
I have a question for you, and I want you to be honest with yourself as you consider your answer: Have you ever prepared for, and then delivered, a presentation with the ultimate goal of showing how smart, competent or impressive you are?
The reason I ask is because most people in my communication coaching practice admit that this is often the case. It’s a driver, a natural urge, an instinct. The workplace is rife with competition. You’re hoping to get ahead and so, sure, you’re on the lookout for opportunities to showcase your smarts, competence and impressiveness. At the very least, I know it’s your underlying goal. But I’m wondering if, in all honesty, it’s your primary goal. I wouldn’t blame you if it is; you would hardly be alone.
Nevertheless, I also want you to consider the consequences of preening — for your peers and superiors — as your primary objective. There are several critical ways in which a presentation goes off course when you, the speaker, are out to prove how smart you are. They all fall under what I would call “abandonment of audience” issues, and they’re interrelated:
Your preparation is misguided.
Your preparation is focused on you, not on your audience. Among other things, you’re more nervous than you need to be. But that’s small potatoes compared to the other ways in which you’re leaving your audience out of the equation.
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Here’s the deal: Preparing by focusing on your audience is job No. 1. You need to ask yourself: Who are they, what do they really care about, why are they in the room (by choice or obligation) and where are they in terms of knowledge on the topic?
Thinking through these simple who-what-why-where questions will give you insight into them, their mindsets and, therefore, how best to reach, connect and engage with them. It’s all about them, not you.
You want to be thorough or comprehensive.
Your need to show how much you know is understandable but in direct conflict with your audience’s — actually, any audience’s — attention spans and appetite for detail. These so-called “appetites” are very small, no matter who the audience is.
I have run public speaking workshops in which participants were asked to deliver a three-minute talk each month. One of the most universal “aha!” moments for everyone was realizing how many times their attention strayed from the speaker in just three minutes.
Be comforted by the fact that, if you’re not thorough or comprehensive, your audience will ask you for more information on the things they want to know about. It’s all about them, not you.
You’re giving too much information (TMI).
Needing to be thorough or comprehensive comes, of course, with TMI, or too much information. Just because you were asked to make a presentation on a certain topic doesn’t mean you need to educate the room so that they might be able to make the same presentation. You are the subject matter expert, and you need to prioritize based on what you know about your audience’s who-what-why-where.
Attention spans are thin, and retention abilities are even thinner. Consider your audience’s experience (rather than your brilliance) and be selective in the amount of information you dump on them. Again, they’ll ask for more if they’re interested. It’s all about them, not you.
You present content that interests or fascinates you.
Normally, I would say that’s awesome and I admire your passion. However, the recipients of your content are not you. Have you considered whether this same content is interesting or relevant to your audience? You should. They are giving you their precious time and attention in (an unspoken) exchange for something new, useful, beneficial or significant. Make sure you align your content with them and their needs and interests. It’s all about them, not you.
You take up all the time allotted.
Why would you do this other than to show how smart you are? Do you like it when other people deliver presentations that are long or that consume the entire hour? I’m pretty sure — in fact, I’m 100% sure — you do not.
The who-what-why-where answers will help you determine how much time you can and should take for your presentation and how much time you should leave for a Q&A and discussion.
Prioritizing what you deliver and the choreography of how you use your time is up to you. If you have people in the room who chose to be there, then you have a bit more latitude with time. If, on the other hand, you have people in the room who were obliged to be there, then you will want to be more brief and concise. It’s all about them, not you.
What all of this boils down to is being an audience-centric versus ego-centric presenter. Ego-centric presenters are a dime a dozen. You are definitely better than that.
By definition, if leaving a good impression is on your mind, then your presentation will be all about you and not about them, their needs, interests, attention and retention capacities. Make it all about them — from preparation all the way through to delivery — and I can guarantee that you will be regarded as very smart, competent and impressive.
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Author: Beth Noymer Levine, Forbes Councils Member