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The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Want to Make

By Michelle Mazur

I do my best to turn off my speaking coach voice when I attend a presentation. I stay in the moment and focus on being a SAM (spectacular audience member) for the speaker. Most of the time I enjoy the speaker and the speech.

But every once in a while my inner coaching voice will not shut her pie hole.

A few weeks ago I attended an event with a well-known speaker giving a 20-minute talk. She launched into her talk about 5 Tips for Success. My inner coaching voice began to howl, “Do the math.” Five points divided by 20 minutes = 4 minutes per point.

And that’s with no intro or conclusion.

You can’t develop a strong, actionable point in your presentation in four minutes. You can try, but it’s going to be forgettable swill or you’re going to go way overtime (which this speaker did.)

Now, ask me if I remember any of her five points? Not a one. Ask me if I had to sneak out early because I was going to be late for my next appointment? Yes, yes I did.

The bottom line is: Your presentation is not a blog post.

When a presentation is crafted like a blog post, it leaves the audience out of the picture. It doesn’t take into account how people process and more importantly remember information.

When you’re reading a blog post such as this one there is a tendency to skim, look for the bold words or images that stand out. You’re skimming right now, aren’t you?

When you’re reading, if something catches your fancy, you SLOOOOOOOW down and read it more carefully.  If something cOnFuSeS you, you reread that sentence. If something bores you (zzzzzz), you get out of dodge and click away.

In a speech, the audience is at the mercy of the speaker. The audience can’t control the flow of the information. They can’t slow down the speaker if something interests them. They can’t interrupt and ask the presenter to repeat what they just said if they get lost. They can’t escape (easily) if the speaker is boring them.

It’s your duty as a speaker to understand how the audience is going to receive and interpret your message. You’re their guide. Your job is to help them understand and take action on your message.

To make that a heck of a lot easier for you, do this as you prep for a speech:

Focus on One Big Idea

The BIG IDEA is the ONE (just one) takeaway from your speech that you want the audience to remember and be buzzing about after your presentation.

It should be simple, succinct, and specific. Every point in your speech should lead the audience to that Big Idea.

The problem with “tip-style” speeches is that they are generally disjointed and tied together by a vague notion (like be more successful). At the end of the speech it’s like you just read a Buzzfeed article. And do you remember the last Buzzfeed article you read? No? Me neither (but I’m sure it was about cats).

The big idea gives your presentation focus and a way for your audience to spread your message.

Close the Presentation Gap

The presentation gap is the difference between what you want to say as a speaker and what the audience actually needs to hear from you.

Your speech needs to be a bite-size experience of YOU and your expertise. When a speech is crafted like a blog post, the mentality is to “PRESENT ALL THE THINGS.”

Each and every audience member shows up to a presentation because they have a problem that your expertise can solve.

When you give them a smattering of everything, they leave without knowing what to do rather than going out the door primed to take that next action step.

Do the Math on Your Time

You’ve got to do the math on how much time you have to make each of your points.

Recently I worked with a lovely woman who booked a big gig. She was excited and when she told me her title I though “Oh for the love of god, how are we going to make this work.”

Her title was “10 Ways to Hack Your Creativity” (not the real title except for the 10 Ways part). The presentation was 45 minutes, which meant 4.5 minutes per hack and that just wasn’t going to happen.

Her ideas were complex. They needed stories. The audience needed to know what do with the hack after they heard it. There was no way to deliver on the promise of this title without leaving the audience underwhelmed by the quantity.

So what did we do? We changed the title and created a presentation that closed the presentation gap and focused on the BIG IDEA.

When I prepare a speech I use the 10-10-80 rule to judge my time. 10% of the presentation is dedicated to the introduction, 10% to the conclusion, and the remaining 80% focuses on the meat of the speech.

If you’re giving a 20-minute talk, 2-minute intro, 2-minute conclusion, 16-minutes on the body of your speech.

It’s a great rule of thumb to know what you have time to cover and then craft your speech accordingly.

The bottom line is your speech is not a blog post. Your job as a speaker is to make it easy for the audience to process, understand, and take action on your message.

And that’s how you create a speech that leaves the audience buzzing about you and your message instead of thinking “there’s 20 minutes of my life I won’t be getting back.”

About the Author:

Michelle Mazur, Ph.D., is the CEO of presentation skills company Communication Rebel and the author of Speak Up for Your Business. The speakers she works with have gone on to book speaking gigs across the United States, raise 3x the amount of money expected for the launch of a charity, and speak in front of world leaders and First Ladies. Her writing has appeared in Fast CompanyPR Daily, the SlideShare BlogBusiness2Community and She Owns It.

Posted on June 11, 2015

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