Somewhere in your mind buried amongst the 100 billion brain cells you have probably lies your own personal blueprint for how to construct and deliver a business presentation. For many that model is likely to contain a fair number of bullet points, a few charts or graphs, a scattering of images and plethora of words.

Ironically, when a colleague asks for your personal advice on what she should include in her upcoming presentation you’ll probably say something like, no bullet points, very few words or data and plenty of colourful and compelling images.

How then is it possible that you can offer such sound advice yet when it comes to your own presentation that the blueprint hidden away in the recesses of your mind is guaranteed to lead the way?

It’s because of HABIT

Many presenters believe that their presentations are carefully crafted and delivered through clear and structured decision-making processes. They aren’t, they are largely fashioned through little more than habit.

Our approach is normally habitual and based on how we have always done things or have seen them done by others.

It’s long been suggested that almost half of all human behaviour is based on nothing more than habit.

If what you’ve always done or what you’ve always seen for yourself is excellent and allows you to connect with our audience, make an impact and influence action then it’s a good habit worth repeating otherwise it may be worth a review.

As part of our pre-training delegate research one of the most common issues we are asked to help resolve is ‘bad habits’. Here are just a few of the most common we help people with every day:

Bad Habit 1 Reading slides

Interestingly when you ask people what they regard as ‘bad habits’ when it comes to presenting many will list features such as:

– Hands in pockets

– Arms folded

– Saying ‘err’ and ‘umm’ too much

– Speaking too fast

– Holding, tapping, clicking or waving a pen

There are of course many more but the number one offender which isn’t often listed but still we see it every day is reading slides out to the audience.

New habits

As you design each slide ask yourself this one all-important question:

‘Are they likely to read this whilst listening to me speaking?’

If you believe the answer is YES then what you are crafting is a handout, not a visual aid.

It probably also means you shouldn’t be presenting in the first place but sending your audience the documents in an email with a request to call you if they have any questions.

– Use compelling images and few words

Instead of spending an inordinate amount of time writing out slides, invest your time in making sure that what you have to say is of complete relevance and significant value to your audience. Make a commitment to yourself and your audience to only use slides to amplify your message and to enhance your audience’s understanding of the point you are making.

– Hit the B Key

Sometimes it’s appropriate and very powerful to draw your audience’s attention completely away from the slide to get them to focus exclusively on you and your words.

When that moment comes, and you should make it come, simply press the B key on your key board. This will blank the screen and when you are ready for the slide to reappear hit the B key once again to bring it back up.

– Practice, and then practice some more

Rather than using your slides as a script to remember your presentation get into the habit of knowing your message and content inside and out by practicing it.

Firstly, practice as often as you can out loud to yourself at every opportunity.

Then practice in front of a few friends or family members asking them for feedback.

As you start to become comfortable with your presentation practice it in front of colleagues and then if it’s at all possible practice in the very room you will be giving your talk.

Bad Habit 2Speaking too fast

It’s very common for presenters to speak too fast during their presentation and in the process they lose, confuse or even alienate their audience. Speed is normally associated with nerves, passion or simply the fact that the speaker has prepared far too much to say with not enough time to say it in.

There is a great deal you can do to form a new habit of slowing down to connect far more effectively with your audience and it all revolves around building space for them to absorb your content and for you to think.

New habits

– Record yourself presenting and then play it back to yourself and others and see for yourself.

Self – awareness is the key to mindful presenting and the only way you can possibly know if you speak too fast is to listen to yourself and ask people.

– Pause between sentences, after key points and especially after asking rhetorical questions.

There really isn’t anything more powerful than a moment’s silence to help your audience absorb what you just said, to keep up with you and to allow yourself space to think.

– Breathe between sentences.

Most presenters don’t take time to breathe effectively despite the fact that it’s one of their greatest assets. Breathing properly before and during your presentation helps you to stay calm, focused and in control.

It provides the platform to mindfulness and offers enormous scope in being able to improvise, use your vocal chords more creatively and feel and act more confidently.

– Practice reading chapters from your favourite book out loud at different speeds.

Accentuate slowing right down and speeding up and get to feel the impact for yourself.

The best way to slow down is to practice slowing down. That sounds like simple common sense because that’s what it is, but it’s worth stating because most people tell themselves consciously to slow down but if they don’t practice doing so they don’t know how.

– Get your audience involved by asking them questions, get them to use their imagination or even do a simple exercise.

There’s nothing worse than feeling as though you are being lectured at and the best way to avoid imposing that feeling if you know you speak too fast is to create a conversation rather than a presentation. You can only achieve that by involving your audience.

– Build in variety by using short powerful videos, props or a relevant handout.

Whilst content is king when it comes to presenting contrast and creativity must be very close cousins. Far too few business presentations contain enough variety to stimulate, engage and retain the attention of an audience and it’s hard to do that just by talking all the time.

I’m one of those presenters who can very easily find myself speaking too fast purely through personal passion and energy. One of my favourite ways of slowing down is by using eye contact to imagine that I am personally delivering gifts to individual members of my audience.

I do so by focusing a sentence, point or message through making direct eye contact with different people throughout my presentation as though I just gave them a gift and waited a moment for them to unwrap it.

Bad Habit 3 Movement (too much and not enough)

Like most things in life balance is the key to happiness and success and it’s exactly the same when it comes to how much and how you move when presenting to an audience.

The speaker’s prime objective is to capture and hold the attention of their audience throughout their entire presentation and it’s really hard to do that when you are fidgeting, swaying from side to side or playing with loose change in your pocket.

Any meaningless movement done to the point of distraction will drive your audience insane and ensure that they aren’t focused on you or your message.

Equally standing to attention like a Queen’s guard doesn’t help you in your quest to engage your audience either.

New habits

Remember the first new habit I suggested you make for bad habit 2 – speaking too fast? Adopting the same new habit here will serve you well in finding balance of movement.

– Record yourself presenting and then play it back to yourself and others and see for yourself

Self – awareness is the key to mindful presenting and the only way you can possibly know if you move too much or not enough is to watch yourself and get feedback. You can only stop what you are actually aware of.

– Take the handcuffs off

If you put them in your pockets or behind your back you’ve trapped them and it’s likely they will stay there. Start speaking with them out at the front just above your waist and watch what happens, they know exactly what to do without any real coaching.

Stand firm

Discard any ‘comfort blankets’ like pens, pencils or pointers and start by keeping your shoulders back and down with your feet planted firmly on the floor, shoulder-width apart. Keep your head up slightly and your torso comfortably tight. Remember to breathe deeply.

-Talk to your face

Have you ever heard a presenter say how passionate they are about what they are about to share with you yet they’ve forgotten to tell their face and so look anything but passionate. Don’t make that mistake; tell your body and face exactly how you want your audience to feel and then show it.

– Make it meaningful

Move with a purpose. For example, if you are sharing three key messages in your presentation make a point of standing in three different locations on the platform for each different message.

If you are talking about the future step forward into the future and if you’re relating to the past take a step backwards.

If you are trying to explain how large something was then use your hands to demonstrate its size and of course the same if it’s something small.

Movement is energy and visual stimulation which is certainly something your audience wants from you so don’t take the old advice of standing still like a statue, get moving but do so with purpose and meaning.

I’ve only covered 3 common ‘bad habits’ in this article and I’m conscious of that fact that you could multiply that number by at least 10 for the number that we are presented with in our workshops every week.

Regardless of the habit the solution is mindfulness and self- awareness which in its simplest form means going out of your way to recognise and understand for yourself what you do each time you speak that helps or hinders the way you connect with your audience

Once you identify the habits that don’t serve you well give some careful thought to what you could do to replace it with that would be far more helpful to your audience.

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Image: Courtesy of flickr.com