“It is impossible to have a real conversation with someone when he is somewhere else. Likewise, it is impossible to have a truly successful presentation when you are ‘somewhere else”.
Garr Reynolds, Presentation Zen.
After giving a presentation, do you sometimes think, “I wonder how that went”? Of course, you were there for the presentation – but you weren’t really there.
Perhaps you realise you were so focused on talking AT the audience that you didn’t notice how they found it? Or maybe you were preoccupied with one of your previous meetings, so while you were there in body, your mind was somewhere else. Worrying. Planning. Distracted.
It’s tricky isn’t it? With so many things pulling us in so many ways, it is often hard to be present, and focused. But we all know how valuable face to face (or face to screen) time is.
When we present to people, we have an opportunity to gain consensus, change opinions, prepare for change, and establish connections.
And yet, it’s so easy to become distracted when giving a presentation. To focus on the wrong thing, and then miss out on the opportunity to interact with the people in the room: the conversation, the shift, the purpose (the real work that needs to be done).
I know, “be present” is a mantra that’s thrown out so often, but in terms of presenting, it really is key. Why? Because distraction on your part leads to an audience who are distractable. You can’t hold their attention when yours is wandering.
If you really want to master being PRESENT in your presentation, these are the four habits that you need to ditch:
Habit 1: Getting lost in your presentation slides.
Most of us are guilty of ‘slide-overuse syndrome’, at least some of the time. However, in today’s world where virtual meetings are the norm, the issue is rife.
We all know how it goes: we either share our screen or flick up the PowerPoint. We then read off our slides for the next 10 minutes, and finish with, “any questions?”, only to notice half our audience have either turned off their cameras, are multi-tasking or are staring at you blanky. Generally – not engaged.
And who can blame them? The reality is, whether we are online or in-person, focusing solely on your slides when you talk to people is not an effective way to communicate. And it makes it so much easier for your audience to disengage.
Here’s the thing: your slides are simply a visual tool to help you communicate your ideas. YOU are the presentation. Rather than hiding behind a slide deck, craft your message first. And then decide on what slides your message really needs.
Ask yourself, “will this slide help my audience understand or remember my point”? If not – ditch it.
Habit 2: Trying to recite a complete presentation script.
For those high-stakes presentations, it is tempting to write out what we want to say and recite this script to our audience.
But this means we have to work really hard, at the wrong thing. Rather than talking and communicating to our audience (the right thing), we spend our energy remembering an exact word, in an exact sentence, with exact timing. Exhausting. And ineffective.
If you are just focusing on getting from the start of your presentation to the end, what is the point of everyone being in the room? You could have just recorded yourself! (Lightbulb moment, perhaps)?
Rather than focusing on trying to get through your message, focus on getting your message through instead.
Habit 3: Focusing on the previous meeting, or your next one.
We are all guilty of running from one meeting to another. Often with no time to process comments, implications, or obligations that have come up from a previous meeting. Which means our head is full when we step into our next meeting (and our next).
Then we find ourselves talking to someone while we think about a previous or impending conversation. Or perhaps, because being distracted becomes a normal state, we even allow things like what we are going to eat for dinner that night be on our mind, instead of what’s happening in the moment.
That might all be relatable, but it doesn’t make it ok. If a meeting is important, we owe it to everyone there to be present. There in body, and in focus. Tuned in, and alert. We like to kid ourselves that others can’t tell if we’re not ‘fully there’, but they can. And we owe them, and our presentation, more.
Habit 4: Reading, scrolling and texting on your phone.
We know you’re busy. We get it, because guess what? So are we!
But mid-conversation, or mid-presentation, is not the time to be trying to respond to text messages. The split focus does not work. There is no way you can be present, and the text message always wins out.
Meetings are valuable times. Do everyone a favour and show them the respect that you would like to receive from them. How do you feel when you are talking to someone and they are on their phone?
Luckily our phones come with do not disturb functions, made exactly for the times that being PRESENT is crucial. (Seriously, mastering this function will be liberating for your focus and your relationships, and as a bonus – your sleep).
If a meeting is not important and you don’t need to be focused, then cancel it. Send an email instead. Face to face time should be used sparingly. And with respect. Make sure your presentation has purpose before you arrange it, and then ditch the distracting habits to ensure you are present.
Get out of your head, and into the room.
Stop presenting. Start talking.