Six presentation ‘rules’ you should ignore.

You probably already know the benefits of being a good presenter. Presenting is one of the best ways to build your influence and establish your credibility. Almost everyone in business would benefit from learning to present better.
Many people know this, and they often think that the way to improve as a presenter and public speaker is to go on a ‘presentation skills’ course. Often these courses are useful and valuable, especially when there is plenty of time to practice presenting.
However, I’ve seen many clients who have become worse when they go on these courses. This is often because the trainers are not presenters themselves.
When you run a training course, it’s always easier to be lazy and give ‘rules’ than work on each presentation from the ground up. So ‘rules’ get repeated a lot, and people start to believe them – even when they’re wrong!
Here are some of the worst offenders I’ve heard, and what you can do instead:
1. Start with silence.
This ‘rule’ is ridiculous, and you can safely ignore it. What the rule should say is ‘Don’t say anything important until you have your audience’s attention’. This doesn’t mean you have to start with silence. Watch any great comedian and you’ll see they rarely start with a pause. They grab the audience’s attention and then hit them with a killer joke.
2. It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that matters.
This ‘rule’ has done a lot of damage to business presenters. The truth is exactly the reverse. Although body language and vocal tone are important, the most important thing for an audience is your message. Your audience only cares about whether there’s something in it for them. If you want the quickest route to being a better presenter, get a better message.
3. ‘Just be yourself’
People get paid to give advice like this! Presenting is not a natural activity, and ‘being yourself’ won’t cut it. Of course, you don’t want to be fake or exaggerated but you do need to construct a clear, compelling message and deliver it well. It doesn’t come naturally to any of us. I change this rule to: ‘be the clearest, most persuasive version of yourself you can be’.
4. ‘Imagine your audience naked – it will make you less nervous’
Everyone I know who has tried this has said it makes them more nervous! Instead, do some rehearsal, and then some more rehearsal. Rehearsal is the single best cure for nerves.
5. ‘Don’t be nervous’
This is like telling a drowning man to ‘just swim’. If they could do it, they’d be doing it already. This is similar to the guideline ‘Be confident’. It’s a great aim, but pointless as advice. Everyone who presents gets a bit nervous. Don’t fight it, use it. Nerves can give you an ‘edge’ as a presenter. As above in number 4 – rehearse as much as you can.
6. Speak slowly.
You can ignore this harmful rule. Presenters usually shouldn’t tone down their natural enthusiasm. A better way of phrasing this ‘rule’ would be ‘communicate clearly’. Taking time to pause, and using vocal contrast is a much better way to make your presenting clearer.
Rant over – for now. The basic point is to remember that presenting is all about communicating with an audience. You’re dealing with quirky, changeable, unpredictable human beings, so presenting is more of an art than a science. Treat rules as guidelines and test them against this simple idea – ‘will doing this help me connect better with my audience?’.
Have you heard, or been given terrible presentation advice? Let me know in the comments – I’d love to hear your stories!

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