Presentations aren’t just formal slideshow-focused events, led from the front — we are presenting all the time in our daily work and in different ways to peers, team members and groups — whether providing information, reporting progress, briefing teams, or teaching skills. How you convey information can make all the difference in whether the message lands and what your audience does next. So how can you make sure you are communicating effectively? We look at five common mistakes you might be making in your everyday presentations and how to change them…
MISTAKE: NOT CONSIDERING THE POWER OF LOCATION
Not every location is suitable for every kind of interaction — providing a progress report while hovering over someone’s desk or briefing someone in a noisy, busy space isn’t going to optimise your communication: choose the right place for the right presentation and you can leverage the environment around you to make your messages land more effectively.
Solution: According to the British Psychological Society, employees in an open space office can be up to 66% less productive, mainly as a result of distracting sound. So, if you’re working in this kind of office, it’s crucial to take the time to find a private place for one-to-one meetings or progress reports — out of eyeshot and earshot of others — in order to be able to maintain focus. Conversely, if everyone is separated out, think about bringing your team together in the middle of the room for a project catch-up that can physically emphasise the collaborative nature of your work. Huddles or small sharp daily or weekly briefings work better in locations that feel different to ‘everyday work’ — choose a place where the team members must stand up for example, if people sit at desks all day, to underline the message. Or, consider walking meetings for small groups to break up routines and get the benefit of oxygen as well as focus — something that can also be useful to liven up appropriate online meetings too.
MISTAKE: TREATING ONLINE PRESENTATIONS LIKE IN-PERSON ONES
We’ve all become used to holding daily digital presentations. But it’s not enough to transpose your normal meeting style onto a videoconferencing one — successful online presentations demand tweaks to your presentation style and structure to make up for the communication shortcomings of the online space.
Solution: The static nature of a video-meeting means that they can get monotonous quickly — who hasn’t zoned out of a presentation of a droning voice and head-on view of someone? To boost engagement in an online presentation, take regular breaks to engage the audience in conversation, employ break out rooms for small group discussions, use brainstorming software to get everyone to collaborate on screen, or switch up the pace with short videos. And try to make it visual — a study by the University of Minnesota, found presentations delivered with visual aids were 43% more effective at getting people to act than those without. Don’t try to squash everything into bullet points on PowerPoint slides; instead present a single idea at a time, so you know exactly where your audience’s attention is. And don’t just pick the first clip art you find, be creative with visual metaphors, perhaps adding in things such as GIFs to keep things lively. Finally, check back regularly to see whether the information is being received properly — without physical cues such as body language to give you information, misunderstandings and disengagement can occur without you having realised, so make sure your audience leaves with the message you want to land.
MISTAKE: STAYING IN ‘BROADCAST’ MODE
When giving information, briefing, or presenting it’s easy to fall into the trap of ‘broadcasting’, using a one-way communication style to get through the information without listening — breaking down communication and blocking the flow of useful information as a result. The benefit of daily presentations is that they are usually small-scale and less formal, so take advantage of this valuable opportunity to have greater interaction with those you’re sharing information with by speaking less and listening more.
Solution: Mindful or active listening is the art of empathic listening and to become more mindful generally involves saying less. The best leaders know that it is not just what they are saying (and doing) that determines the value of the presentation — and that collaboration leads to better outcomes across the board, so they stay present and ask questions to draw out valuable information. In addition, active listening minimises the effect of our biases while bypassing our own agenda according to research, helping us to make clearer and more considered decisions. A simple way to see if you are in ‘broadcast mode’ is to check in with yourself during your presentation, with the acronym: ‘W.A.I.T.’, or ‘Why Am I Talking?’ — to encourage you to be more mindful of how you are communicating. And don’t be afraid of silences in your presentation — they will also allow you to understand more, ask more questions and get better answers, while ensuring that others feel seen and heard.
MISTAKE: USING REPETITION IN THE WRONG WAY
The power of repetition can play an important part in helping to emphasise points. Research shows that when stimuli are learned by repetition, they are remembered better and retained for a longer time. However, nothing will make people tune out quicker from what you’re saying than if you repeat the same thing over and over; in the end, it’s not just what you say, but how you say it that helps your information land fully.
Solution: Brains love repetition; it creates the comfort of familiarity and when they find something easier to process, they like it more, leading to greater message retention. The classic 1930s ‘marketing rule of seven’ suggested that people need to hear a message seven times in different ways before they can retain it. Modern research builds on that idea of familiarity to help transition a skill from the conscious to the subconscious. So, instead of hammering home a literal message over and over which the brain disregards as ‘already heard’ (and can also make your audience feel as if you don’t trust them to understand it) tell team members what you want them to know, then reinforce it with a visual or other aid. Using repetition as a leader is about finding multiple creative and effective ways to get the same idea across to your team so that their brains lock on to, and accept, information readily. Only reset with the original statement again if you check in with the audience during the presentation and find it has not been ‘heard’ properly yet.
MISTAKE: STICKING TO THE DATA ALONE
All presentations and meetings have the fundamental goal of informing audiences and convincing them to act in a certain way. Persuasion is an essential skill when it comes to being an effective and successful presenter, but using raw data and cold logic alone will not turn your presentation into a compelling one.
Solution: Research has shown that storytelling is one of the best ways to persuade people to act – a Wharton Business School study showed that emotions often drive decisions more than analytical thinking does. While you may have hard information to impart during a presentation, inspiring your audience and persuading them to put this information into a wider business context and act on it takes more than the presentation of numbers or facts alone. Research shows that brains are designed to respond to stories, so tying information back to project vision or even business mission statements can help to bring it alive. Within this, engendering the feeling of collaboration is also powerful in making an impact in presentations of all sizes and goals. Asking incisive questions (and listening to the answers) and consulting around creative solutions can increase a sense of ownership of the journey or outcomes of even the driest of information. Making your audience feel that you are working together towards a common goal around the information you have just shared, helps to give a sense of investment in it — as well as build the rapport that is central to being persuasive.
 Dollinger, Comer & Warrington, 2006). = https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/mar.20105