4 Common Presentation Myths Debunked


There have been countless articles written on the biggest mistakes we make when giving presentations. Rather than compile the same group of mishaps, we're going to debunk some myths that have been perpetuated over time.

Scan the audience

You may have heard that the best way to connect with audience members is to scan the audience. This behavior should, theoretically, ensure that you make some level of eye contact with everyone. In fact, scanning prevents you from engaging with anyone. Because eye contact is all about engagement, you want to make sure that you are always looking at someone when you are speaking. If your mouth is moving, you should make eye contact. With larger groups that might mean that you are looking at a cluster of people and they all feel like you are looking at them directly. This creates a high level of engagement with the audience and, for those who are a little less comfortable speaking to larger groups, it creates a dynamic where you are having a series of 1:1 conversations.

Gestures are distracting

We often hear people self-diagnose that they gesture too much. That is possible, especially if you are the sort of speaker who tends to talks with their hands. However, for most people, they actually gesture too little. Many talkers tend to rest their hands in front of them in closed positions which can render their hands useless for gesturing. Sometimes they are holding a slide advancer and set the empty hand on top of the one with the advancer. Or, they have their hands behind their back military style. Or, even worse, their hands are securely placed in their pockets because they simply don't know what to do with them. Gestures are powerful assets because they help you express yourself and help your audience follow along with your message. Using your hands to point to content on a slide or to count off items in a list is a great way to give your audience visual cues. 

Move around like you're giving a TED Talk

While TED Talks are incredibly successful vehicles for sharing or gaining knowledge, the style of the talks is unique to the format. For most of us, walking around a stage or pacing around a room is very distracting to the audience. Movement is often effective and important for connecting with your audience but frequent, unintentional movement can make you seem nervous or give the impression of being a caged tiger. If you are someone who likes to move, make sure you are moving with purpose. Move across a stage to engage a different side of the room or walk to the other side of your presentation to spotlight content on the screen. Whenever you move, make sure to find a destination and then stay there for a bit before moving once again. Rapid or constant moving may work for neurotic comedians but won't play well with demonstrating your confidence during a presentation.

Pauses disengage your audience

Some speakers fear that if they pause too frequently or take too long of a pause that they will bore their audience or, even worse, completely disengage them. In fact, pauses are one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. Pauses help in a number of ways, such as when you want to emphasize a point or when you've lost your place and need to recall content. Plus, if we are fast talkers, pauses give us a chance to take a breath and give our audience a little break to catch up! Most pauses are actually less than a second long and it would require a substantially-long pause before you would lose your audience or they would notice that you have stopped speaking.

Any of these skills can be developed through proper coaching and practice. Give Presentr a try!


So, what's the deal with so?

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We coach a lot of people on their communication skills. Between live coaching and the data from users on our Presentr app, we see thousands of speakers per year. This gives us great insights into communication trends. For years, we have been helping clients reduce their use of filler words like "uh" and "um". Recently, however, we've noticed the attack of another filler word - SO.

Have you noticed that people now, more than ever, start statements or responses to questions with "so"? This is actually not a hot phenomenon. According to NPR, the overuse of the word has not changed in the past 50 or 100 years. Only our irritation with it has. As a result, so is now topping the list of crutch words that affect the way we are perceived by others. Using the word sabotages our confidence and even can feel like we are talking down to the audience. With that in mind, what can we do to change? 

The key to eliminating any filler words is awareness. Consciously admitting your use of a word is a great first tactic. We always suggest, naturally, that people use Presentr as a way to track and start to eliminate their use of filler words. But there are some other techniques as well. Since "so" is most commonly used at the beginning of a sentence, take a bit of a longer pause before you start speaking. Think about the first word you want to come out of your mouth, and then start speaking with that word. Even a pause for a millisecond will give you the opportunity to collect yourself and be intentional about the words coming out of your mouth.

Decoding the Hardwired Gender Biases: How our Nonverbal Communication Sets the Tone

 Huffington Post (Ron Chapple Studios - Getty Images)

Huffington Post (Ron Chapple Studios - Getty Images)

Following recent revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual harassment of women in Hollywood and one of the most controversial election cycles in American history, sexism has become a daily topic of conversation in the media. There has been much debate about the expectations and norms of women both professionally and personally, and there are no shortage of points of view about what is acceptable behavior and what might be interpreted as provocative or inappropriate, even amongst school-age girls.

I won’t be the first to call out the fact that these same rules do not apply to men. As a mother of two sons, I am continually discussing with my boys what is appropriate and acceptable behavior with young women in general and for them in particular. But I never need to have a conversation with them about their clothing options or how revealing or provocative their outfits might be.

The same is not true of my counterparts with daughters. For them, there is no shortage of debate about the length of their shorts, whether or not leggings are appropriate or if a cropped shirt is showing too much skin. And, presumably, all of this discussion is rooted in the idea that my boys cannot control their impulses when they lay eyes upon a girl with a short skirt or a midriff-revealing top.

Gender Difference in Nonverbal Communication

In 2008, Hillary Clinton, on a campaign stop on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, was notably observed demonstrating emotion as her eyes welled up with tears while answering a question of one of the rally-goers. This was considered a transformational moment in her campaign because she seemed more human.

When has a male candidate ever been considered more human or more electable or more relatable because they cried?

Surprisingly, there has been very little research done on how differently men and women communicate nonverbally and how they address the implicit expectations born out of gender bias. For that one moment that Clinton was lauded for her demonstration of emotions, she sustained dozens of attacks on her stoicism or attempts to act “masculine.” There is a tremendous pressure on women to either neutralize their gender or fit in with men - both of which often backfire because they run counter to what we are conditioned to believe about women. Women who show little emotion are often criticized as being cold or insensitive while men are applauded for their strength when they do the same.

In 2012, Ronald Reggio, a professor of Leadership and Organizational Psychology at Claremont McKenna College in California and a foremost researcher on body language, published an article in Psychology Today speaking to the nonverbal power cues of men and women. His article reinforces much of what we know to be true about the differences between men and women, primarily that men nonverbally demonstrate dominance through the space they take up with their bodies, their posture, their use of touch and of eye contact. Women tend to make themselves smaller, often because they have sensitivity about their bodies, tend to close themselves off by crossing their arms and legs and rarely invade personal space with touch. In addition, women often have the burden of restrictive clothing including short, tight skirts or high heels that complicate their nonverbal behavior.

The differences in the way men and women communicate nonverbally creates challenges both with the messages they are trying to communicate to each other as well as how they are receiving messages. We are all hard-wired to receive messages in a certain way and biases are instilled in us from a very early age. Even as our behaviors with children are evolving, we are a long way from providing nonverbal cues to send the messages to young girls that they can be equal to men. Children, more than anyone, learn from what they observe rather than what they are told.

For me and my sons, I have tried to show them that their parents bear equal weight in our household and demonstrate that I can be both hard and soft. Yet, in a progressive era in a progressive community, they still have a deep-rooted understanding about how boys and girls are meant to show up. When my high schooler sees girls be aggressive and outspoken, it is jarring and unsettling for him because, despite what we’ve shared with him, he has been programmed differently.

As we all step forward with our #metoo on Facebook and declare the need for more gender equality, it would serve us well to take a step back and look at the root causes that allow Harvey Weinstein or other predators to take shape. Until we seriously consider the subtleties of implicit bias and nonverbal cues, we will remain a long way from achieving our goals. If we really want to see equality in the highest office in the land and encourage women to have an equal seat at the table, we might want to consider how she is sitting.


Surviving in the Idea Economy


In 2006, Tony Robbins said, “ideas are the commerce of the 21st century.” Eleven years later his comment is still spot on. We have been fed a steady stream of ideas through the growth of TED talks and everyone’s ability to vlog their thoughts on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and more.

Every day, TED talks receive over one million views. Each month, YouTube has over one billion unique visitors. For anyone under the age of 40 (and plenty over that age), information is more readily acquired and shared via video. The same is true for our workplaces.  Each day, 30 million PowerPoint™ presentations are shared -- many, if not most, via video conference -- and 15 million people hours are spent each day consuming presentations. There is no question that we are sharing ideas to enrich, improve and advance our societies, but I can’t help but wonder…

How many ideas are being left on the cutting room floor because of an overt fear of communicating them?

You’ve no doubt heard that 75% of the population has a fear of public speaking. This fear tops every list of phobias, surpassing death. For some, it is crippling and prevents them from ever speaking in public, let alone share their novel ideas. If that’s the case, we must consider how many great ideas never make their way to mass consumption -- how much innovation we lose because the people with the ideas are afraid to speak up.

Daniel Pink, one of the most influential management thinkers in the world, and prolific author and speaker suggests in his book To Sell is Human that everyone is now in sales. (Check him out on YouTube.). He theorizes that while sales have changed over the past 10 years and consumers can pretty much research and buy any product online, one in nine workers are still in sales, totaling some 15 million people. However, Pink suggests that the other eight workers are also selling -- not objects or items, but ideas and techniques. We are all persuading, negotiating and pitching. This means that even the mere act of cajoling your child to get their homework done is a sales process, requiring influence, negotiation, and an ability to communicate effectively.

With this in mind, we must ensure that everyone’s voice can be heard and that all great ideas are shared. It is paramount that we create a world where people can speak confidently and competently in order to participate in the commerce of ideas. And, as another generation enters the workforce -- one that is severely under-skilled at communications (56% of them acknowledge that their communication skills are sorely lacking) -- we must ensure that we have tools that match the needs and styles of these learners, our future leaders.

In order to survive in the 21st century idea economy, we must be able to communicate our ideas. Who knows what we may miss from the 75 percent who are simply too scared to speak up.