August 22, 2006
By Paul Glen
As IT professionals, eventually, we are all called upon to deliver presentations to clients, users, supervisors, or peers. It's not something that tends to come naturally to us. We'd much rather be writing code, doing project plans, or even writing documentation. Almost anything is better than getting up in front of a group of people. In fact, many consider public speaking to be one of life’s most frightening events.
Because presentations are so important to your careers, C2 Consulting is joining forces with two other companies, Hill Enterprises and Lee Inc. to jointly develop a hands-on training course specifically designed to help IT professionals develop these critical skills.
As a preview to this course, here are a few ideas to help you think about how to screw up your next presentation. If you’d rather not do presentations, just try these out and be assured that you’ll never be invited back to speak again.
1. Just wing it
Preparing for a presentation can be a real drag. Don’t bother. Your audience won’t notice. They enjoy listening to you deliver incoherent and incomplete ideas. Anyway, they know that your time is important, and they can’t expect you to spend your valuable time preparing. It’s better that you just waste all of the audience’s time.
2. Start out weak
An audience typically gives a speaker about 30 seconds before they judge whether to pay attention or not. If you start out weak and lose them, you’ll never get them back, no matter how good you are later. If you’ve followed rule #1 and under-prepared, this may be the best way to cover that up. Just mumble for a minute or two and they won’t be paying enough attention to find out whether you prepared or not.
3. It’s all about me...isn’t it?
Why pay attention to who the audience is and what they’re interested in learning. When you have to give a presentation, it’s all about what you want to tell them. Why be bothered with trying to figure out what they want? Once you’re in front of them, they’re captive and have to listen, right?
4. It’s all about my boss...isn’t it?
If being obsequious is your forte, this is another form of #3. Instead of focusing on your needs, focus on the needs of that one person you really want to impress. Just talk to the important person. Everyone else in the audience will understand and respect you for your focus.
5. Substitute opinions for facts
Here’s a sure fire way to lose credibility quickly. If you want to make sure that the audience won’t believe anything you say, make unsubstantiated claims, or better yet, just state your opinion as if it’s a fact. It makes you seem more important. You’re the ARBITER of TRUTH.
Personal stories, unrelated topics, musings, witticisms, and irrelevant facts all reinforce the message that you’re trying to communicate. Audiences love to hear things that start like, "I just have to tell you this" or "That reminds me of the time when I just a boy of twelve back in Zanadu and got caught stealing olives from Mr. McPruder’s tree."
7. Abandon your objective
Coherence and focus are overrated. Your audience doesn’t really care if you start out with one presentation purpose and seamlessly transition to another one. As long as you smoothly transition from one objective to the next to the next, the audience will follow along. If you do not clearly move from one to the next, you’re actually doing #6, meandering.
8. Ignore the environment
Whether you are the keynote speaker at an industry-wide conference or delivering a proposal to a group of two, presentations are all the same. Refusing to adapt is the sign of a powerful presenter. Bowing to the environment is a sign of weakness.
9. Declare your own time zone
Just start when you start and finish when you finish. Once you’ve got the microphone, you are in control of the audience’s time. Whatever schedule they set is irrelevant. Possession of the microphone gives you the right to dictate the time allocation of your audience.
10. Finish weak
Your conclusion is the last thing that your audience hears, so if you’ve managed to hold their attention even after following the other rules, it’s what they’ll remember most about your performance. A weak conclusion will help ensure that they lose sight of what your presentation was supposed to accomplish. It also helps them remember you in a positive light.
So if you are determined to deliver poor presentations, or to never be invited to do one ever again, following these rules should get you where you’re going.
Paul Glen is the author of the award-winning book "Leading Geeks: How to Manage and Lead People Who Deliver Technology" (Jossey Bass Pfeiffer, 2003) and Principal of C2 Consulting. C2 Consulting helps IT management solve people problems. Paul Glen regularly speaks for corporations and national associations across North America. For more information go to www.c2-consulting.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .