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Disrupt with your ideas, not your presentation.

There’s a saying: it’s not what you say, but how you say it. The way you present your argument has a big effect on what you are trying to get across.

Imagine your message travelling down an invisible phone line from your mind to your audience’s mind. You want that line to be as clear as possible, with no crackles or disturbances.

If you get your point across clearly, then you and your audience are tuned into the same argument and can have a real debate.

If your behaviour disrupts your message, then you have a noisy line to your audience.

The message won’t be clear, and is one reason why great ideas can be rejected.

If you have struggled with your presentations, these are some of the most common mistakes, and how to correct them:

1: Focus on your audience

Problem: You get lost in your idea. You talk to the idea, rather than your audience. You may even momentarily forget they’re there. You may talk to yourself, make an aside. This excludes your audience.

The fix: Separate the idea from your presentation. Spend time on how you convert the idea into the presentation, whilst thinking about what your audience needs.

2: Don’t talk to your slides

Problem: You interact with your own presentation. You point at your slides. You turn to look at the slides. No matter how attractive the back of your head is, it won’t win over your audience.

The fix: Know your slides and what’s on them. If you have to point something out on a slide, then that slide is too complicated. Which leads to my next point....

3: Don’t apologise

Problem: You apologise for something. It could be anything. It could be tech related like the wrong cables etc. It could be because you rush or because a slide is very detailed, etc. Your audience will not have noticed what you’re apologising for, but by apologising, you have brought it to their attention.

The fix: Think about the ways in which you find yourself apologising, and find an answer for each of them without apologising. You’ll eventually run out of things you need to apologise for.

4: Check your filler words

Problem: You umm, uhhh or use other ‘filler’ words on a regular basis: These ‘filler words’ will unconsciously chip away at the clarity of your message.

The fix: Ask your colleagues to look out for your filler words and tell you what they are. Replace them with a pause. This gives your presentation more space and your audience room to think.

5: Don’t rush

Problem: You rush. You start slow and then get faster as you see the finish line and dash for it. But your audience has been following at your original pace. When you change gear, you can lose them.

The fix: Create a pause midway through your pitch where you can take a breather. “I’m just going to pause here. What thoughts do you have so far?” is a good way to announce this. Then you can cap the discussion and move off. You’ll be starting again which will turn your sprint finish into a graceful glide.

Presenting your idea well is all about how you package it in the time you have available. This takes work. When you’ve finished the idea, at best you’ve only done half the job. The next piece of work is to decide how to pitch it.

John Scarrott works with marketing, design and creative businesses on their approach to pitches, meetings and presentations.

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