Over the last couple of months, I’ve attended three presentations: an historian’s lecture on shipwrecks, an author’s launch of his new book, and a corporate HR executive’s presentation about a new policy. The historian had wonderful images on his slides, but he read his text in a low volume, monotone voice. The book author read statements such as “I’m happy to be here,” his name, and what the book was about. Really? He needed to read that? The HR executive’s presentation was the worst. Not only did she have slides with paragraphs of text written on them that we couldn’t read because the font size was so small, she turned her back to the audience and read the slides—all 35 of them. And to make it worse, she turned off the lights so we could see the slides.
All of the presentations were annoying and boring. Because they read their presentations, the speakers didn’t look prepared, knowledgeable, or credible. Not the impression I want to give my audience when I’m giving a presentation. Do you? Of course not.
#1 Presentation Complaint
In a survey by the American Management Association, business people listed what presentation habits were most annoying. The results, from most to least annoying, were as follows:
- Reads the presentation (37%)
- Has no knowledge of the subject matter (22%)
- Uses too many “umms” and “uhhs” (16%)
- Takes too much time (8%)
- Speaks in a boring/monotone voice (7%)
- Speaks too fast or not loud enough (6%)
- Has bad slides (2%)
- Uses no visuals (1%)
- Doesn’t make eye contact (1%)
What’s interesting, besides “Reads the presentation” coming in as a strong #1, is that four of the other items are by-products of reading a presentation. For example, when presenters read their notes or slides, they come across as not being knowledgeable about their topic, speak in a boring voice, go too fast, have softer voice projection, and don’t make eye contact. Several business surveys came to the same conclusion—people hate listening to a presenter read from a script or from wordy PowerPoint slides.
Just to Clarify
Can notes ever be used when delivering a presentation?
Yes, it’s okay to have notes or PowerPoint slides, just use them effectively. Don’t read them to the audience; it’s the fastest way to get them to stop listening to you.
Is there ever a time when it’s appropriate to read a presentation?
Yes, if the speaker must convey a precise message with exact wording so as not to be misunderstood, misquoted, or misconstrued, such as emergency situations, sensitive press releases, legal matters, or crisis communication.
Why is it Such a Sin to Read a Presentation?
- The natural, conversational, enthusiastic qualities of delivery can be limited.
- Eye contact, facial expressions, and gestures are reduced.
- Reading limits your interaction with the audience.
- Reading a script makes you look unprofessional, not knowledgeable, and not in command.
- IT’S BORING!
Why Do So Many Presenters Continue to Read Their Slides?
- Shorter preparation time.
- Lower risk of losing their place or going blank.
- Lack of confidence or not knowing their material well enough.
- Fear of making a mistake or being embarrassed.
What’s the Advantage in Not Reading a Presentation?
- Movement—able to walk away from the lectern, interact with your audience, and incorporate gestures
- Impression—look more confident, natural, dynamic, credible, and relatable
- Eye contact and facial expressions—convey a sense of conviction and authenticity to connect with the audience
- Voice—sound more conversational, engaging, and authentic
What are Some Techniques to Keep You From Reading Your Presentation?
1. Use notes effectively
If you really must use notes, put them on one page (large font), lay it down on a lectern or nearby table, and don’t touch the notes (definitely don’t hold the paper in your hands). Your notes should just include an outline with key words. If using PowerPoint slides, select the Presenter’s View, where you will see your notes on each slide but the audience will only see the slides, not your notes.
Do not write your speech out word-for-word. Why? Because you will read it. Don’t fool yourself by saying, “No, I won’t.” Keep your notes simple—the best preventative measure to avoid reading.
Take a look at this short video for some tips on How To Give a Killer Presentation – With No Notes
2. Integrate visuals strategically
Your PowerPoint slides (or other presentation software, such as Prezi) can be used to convey specific information that might be difficult to remember (statistic, source, or quote). However, if you have a lot of data, put it on a handout for the audience instead.
Don’t make the slides your note cards by inserting a lot of text on your slides. Follow the 4X4 Rule: no more than four lines per slide and no more than four words per line. (Some experts follow the 6X6 Rule.)
And try to use images, rather than words, where you can. Remember: You are the presentation; the slides are visual aids that supplement the spoken word.
3. Memorize selectively
Don’t put yourself in a high stress situation by memorizing your speech. Not only does it put a lot of undue pressure on you, it will sound and look memorized—a stilted, choppy voice inflection and eyes looking up at the ceiling or the back wall. It’s not a matter of will you forget; it’s a matter of when. Just don’t go there.
However, I’ve found it helpful to know the following extremely well (call it memorizing if you must): what’s included in the introduction and summary and the name and order of my main points.
4. Tell stories
Whenever you can, tell stories and give examples that support your main points. Stories are a powerful way to provide information; your audience will find them interesting and memorable. Furthermore, telling stories makes it easier for you not to be tied to your notes.
5. Rehearse more
Obviously, don’t read when you practice your presentation. Try to deliver it like you would in real-time. In other words, don’t lie on the couch and look up at the ceiling. I rehearse a presentation about six times to gain command of the material and deliver it in a dynamic manner without being tied to my notes.
Break the Habit
Reading during a presentation is a crutch, a bad habit—one that does not go unnoticed.
Ultimately, if you’ve prepared and know your content, you need to trust what you know. You don’t need lengthy notes, word-for-word scripts, or a teleprompter. Remember you are giving a presentation, not a document.
Take the leap to presenting your next presentation without reading—you got this!
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