You can ‘over present’

One of the skills I admire the most is the ability to present to an audience. To do it well you have to balance many things:

– Knowing and memorising subject matter

– Speaking clearly, varying tone and timing of voice appropriately

– Using body movements, gestures

– Deploying props or slideware

– Preparing all of the above for and responding in real time to, the audience

It’s a meta skill and good presenters earn any acclaim given to them.

Yet occasionally someone can be good at all of the above and still deliver badly. A cognitive dissonance sets in for the observer: seeing lots of positive elements, but realising something doesn’t quite work.

I observed this today. A well known training company ran a session for us at work on leadership, mental processing, reacting vs responding. The presenter was exceptional! Articulate, funny, used very few slides, had a great grasp of some interesting material. But something gave me a headache.

And then, after he reached the end, I realised, he hadn’t stop talking for 30 minutes. I hadn’t noticed because he ran polls during the session, so he actively engaged us, sought and discussed our feedback. But there wasn’t a moment to process what he was saying whilst he was speaking.

And his hand gestures had been too rehearsed. They were too slick.

He had ‘over presented’.

I couldn’t blame him. He was enthusiastic, had great energy and he had to see us through to the mid-afternoon comfort break. But he was memorable to me for the wrong reasons and I felt like I had the corporate training day equivalent of a sugar high followed by an almighty crash.

Joel Schwartzberg writing in the Harvard Business Review talks about how many presenters believe their ‘goal is to be perceived as a fantastic speaker or writer’ and by scripting their speech they head ‘down a path of performance (“I want to impress you”), not presentation (“I want to convince you”)’. I’ll add that too much talking and over-rehearsed gestures mean a presenter risks themselves being seen the same way. The session becomes about them, rather than the audience.

So, my advice? Relax a little, slow down. By all means rehearse, but practice a little sprezzatura when you next present.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: