I was on Linkedin this morning reading updates. While I was there, I saw a link to a blog that made me cringe. It was a post about how to deliver a perfect presentation. I clicked on it and saw, as I suspected, that every tip that was mentioned was only applicable to the speechmaking process—not business presentations.
Once again, I thought to myself, the presentation skills training industry has a problem defining itself. Speeches and presentations are constantly tossed into the same big bucket and the bucket is labeled Public Speaking. Because of this, lists like the one I read this morning confuse and frustrate business presenters. The tips themselves weren’t bad for speechmakers. But for the business presenters we work with, they were inappropriate.
So, I’ve decided to come up with my own list. Here are six words that should be red flags for any business presenter reading a book, article, or blog about presenting. When you see them, beware. They aren’t for you.
Performance: The presentations you deliver are not and should never be performances. They are conversations that need to take on a life of their own once they begin.
Stage: When writers talk about “taking the stage” what they’re talking about is a performance.
Entertain: While it’s fine for a speech to be entertaining, presentations shouldn’t be. Can we have fun during a presentation? Absolutely. But if you plan to be entertaining, chances are good that you’ll wind up wasting your audience’s time.
Jokes: I don’t need to elaborate on this one, right?
Perfect:Presentations are not perfect. Sure, they can “go very well,” they can “succeed,” but setting out to make them “perfect” won’t work. When presentations succeed, the presenter initiates and manages a lively, productive conversation with the audience.
Practice: You wouldn’t think that practice could possibly be a bad thing, but if presenters practice to be perfect or practice to the point of scripting, they will be in big trouble. What you should do before you present is prepare to be flexible and responsive.
If you’re a business presenter, give yourself permission to ignore some of the recommendations you read, no matter how many times you see them. The work you do as a presenter is uniquely challenging and understanding how it differs from speechmaking is the first step toward improvement.
Dale Ludwig has a Ph.D. in Communication and, prior to Turpin, taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He founded Turpin Communication in 1992 with the mission to provide the best presentation and facilitation skills training possible. Since then he has worked to do just that. In addition to being one of Turpin’s lead instructors, he also serves as our Chief Learning Architect when tailoring learning engagements for our clients. Dale is a frequent blogger and the co-author of the book "The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined." He’s excited about his latest book, also co-authored with Greg Owen-Boger, "Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide to Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning."