There are some questions which I’m often asked – FAQ’s – about public speaking and presentations. So here’s a list of 5 of the most common ones – see if any of them are ones you’d be asking yourself.
Q1. What’s one of the most common public speaking mistakes?
A. Too much content. I used to have this problem all the time, and it came from a combination of enthusiasm about the topic, wanting to give a huge amount of value, and fear that I would run out of content and be left with nothing else to say while everyone stared at me!
I eventually learned that I was not looking after my audience by doing this. And it’s something that I find happens a lot for my clients as well.
The more points we have, the less likely our audience is to understand or remember our points as we make them. We drain their brains and fry their attention by trying to cram too much content into our talk.
They’ll leave confused and unimpressed.
So it’s worth remembering the old cliche “less is more”. What does the audience need to know? Instead of “what would it be nice for them to know but isn’t essential?”.
I’ve written more about this here.
Q2. What’s more important– content or delivery?
A. This is an interesting area, and one where participants in my workshops will often disagree.
Ultimately, both are important if we want our audience to be able to understand and remember our messages.
I couldn’t say that they’re equally important, simply because there are so many topics and audiences out there with different needs and expectations.
For example, a scientific or medical audience is expecting the content, not a dynamic delivery style. In fact an over the top, overly passionate style will put them off.
However I work with many clients in these areas speaking for example at global conferences – I had one client early this year give a presidential address in Denver – and when they do work on their delivery and make it authentic to them and something that they are comfortable to do, they get great feedback on their presentation.
It’s such a refreshing change for the audience that their presentation will stand out.
But for this audience, content will beat delivery.
So for one audience, content will definitely win out: for another, delivery is vital, or they’ll walk away.
Let’s compare the two:
Great content delivered poorly is a real problem because if we’re not engaging and able to deliver in an interesting way, the audience will usually stop listening.
So even if our content is amazing, we’re going to have a problem with engagement and great content is not enough.
Low-quality content. On the other hand, we might have low-quality or fluffy content but deliver in an engaging, inspiring and motivational way. This might temporarily get our audiences excited – but again when we’re looking at the results of the presentation, they will go away feeling empty and look back and be disappointed.
So our delivery might be amazing but that’s not enough either.
To create a truly effective presentation, we really do need both great content – or at the very least relevant content – and we need to make sure that our delivery skills are up to the task of getting that content across well.
Q3. Is it ok to gesture or not?
A. I have strong opinions on this one, backed up by science. It’s really important that you don’t inhibit your natural gesturing style when you present…there’s a lot of research that shows that we gesture in order to think clearly.
And if we stop those gestures or try and hold onto them – say we held our hands down or put our hands behind our back: that would have an impact on our thinking speed. So it’s vital to avoid that.
Public speaking uses a lot of our capacity anyway: so the last thing we want to be doing is inhibiting part of our brain!
So your goal is to gesture naturally, as if you were having an animated conversation. You should find if you do this, that your gestures will start to illustrate what you’re saying…and that they’ll be quite deliberate.
What are you don’t want is to be moving your arms the whole time. If you are doing that then there is an issue of audience distraction. And that issue kicks in particularly when people do what I call ‘flailing’.
Flailing simply means that gestures are so big, constant, repetitious or distinctive that they get in the way for the audience and become a distraction.
It’s rare, but I have seen it happen. If this is you, you’ll want to practise putting your gestures into a smaller imaginary box in front of you and at your sides. Make the diameters of the ‘box’ that you move in, smaller.
Practise this in a safe place, so that you can access it when you’re under pressure. Remember that when we are under pressure we downgrade to survival mode. So it’s no good saying “I’ll test this out when I’m actually in front of the audience” – it’s too late by then.
Q4. How do I manage my time during my talk?
A. I recommend that you create your presentation in clear chunks so that you’re able to add or delete content if necessary and it will still make coherent sense to your audience.
Always put extra content in the appendix, just in case you have a quieter or less interactive audience and need to add more content than you’d planned for.
I also have examples that I can move through very quickly if I need to. Or I can take longer over them and elaborate with more detail if I still have plenty of time left.
To make this work, you are going to need to have – at the very least – a rough idea of the timeline of your presentation. This prevents the heart-stopping moment of seeing that you’ve got five minutes left and you still have a third of your presentation to get through! Yes that’s happened to me, not my finest moment.
Which leads me to this important point:
If it’s a big or important presentation, you’ll want to be practising the whole thing so that you know how long it goes for. And you need to practise standing up out loud, using the slides, imagining interaction in the way that would happen in reality.
It’s no good to read the presentation through in your head and assume that the length of time it takes you is the length of time that will take you to speak.
Remember that we read usually much faster than we speak, so it’s particularly important not to use talking to yourself internally as the benchmark. If you do that, you’ll find that you have far too much content. See Q1!
Q5. How many slides should I use?
A. I wish I could give you a definitive answer, but sadly it’s not that clear-cut.
The purpose of slides is to add to and enhance what you’re saying. To add another layer of understanding for your audience, in a visual way which is easy to take in.
And don’t worry about whether your audience is supposed to be more visual, audio or kinaesthetic: we’re ALL visual.
Good slides will help us to understand and remember your content. But you should still need to be there to interpret them.
So as to how many slides? It just depends on what content you’re wanting to convey, and how to create a deck that helps your audience.
Because slides are all about helping your audience – not cramming in detail and using them as your speaker notes (I’m sure you wouldn’t do that!).
I’ve written a more detailed post on this topic here.
So there you have it: 5 of the most common FAQs about public speaking and presentations. I’ll add to this list over time, so do come back to the page if you’re interested.