The Presentation Skills Myth

Is it groundless confidence that allows Kees Moeliker to march onto stage with a dead duck in hand?

In a world of YouTube and TED talks, there is virtually no excuse for delivering a bad presentation.

Both websites provide an insurmountable number of well-directed, high-definition clips of smart people giving uniquely styled presentations on topics ranging from the Big Bang to baby food, covering anything that you can think of in between.

So why is it that we begin to stutter, sweat and laugh uncomfortably when we face the audience? It could be that you have absorbed a toxic amount of coffee prior to taking the podium – which is often my case – but more often than not it is a simple case of stage fright.

If I had to wager, I would say that there are as many publications, documentaries and books on the subject of stage fright as there are videos on TED, but what if that is not the main reason why presentations sometimes go wrong?

On the technical side of things, PowerPoint has become the norm a while ago, and recently there have even been newcomers contesting Microsoft’s domination on the stage.

Above all, communication professionals have to be prepared for any eventuality and maintain a convincing face no matter the circumstances. And that is what I think is the single most important factor in presentation-giving.

Knowledge.

Knowledge of the subject at hand, knowledge of the context, knowledge of the factors challenging your statements, knowledge of today’s headlines, knowledge of the supporting technology.

Of course things like a rich vocabulary, a sense of humor and an engaging presentation style to go with it, tend to contribute a great deal, but none of these can cover for poor preparation.

Recently, I have found myself going to presentations with a bare bones PPT file featuring nothing but pictures and a few words here and there. And before getting drawn into a debate about words vs. no words on PowerPoint slides, I will only say that the feeling of being unconstrained by what is on the screen, is matched only by the nodding heads of your audience as they focus on what you say and how you say it, rather than the text on the video wall.

It is my belief that this kind of environment is only achievable if your preparation is 100% spot-on.

Knowledge suppresses all the little annoying feelings that a presenter is prone to experiencing on the stage. Confidence gets a much needed boost, time suddenly becomes available for jokes and anecdotes, technology seizes to be central and presentation style begins to feel natural, rather than rehearsed.

And if there is one thing that could potentially overshadow even knowledge, it must be practice. Together, these two preconditions form the backbone of a good presentation.

So put a smile on, learn everything that is to be learnt and head to the auditorium with as little burden as possible. With time, anyone can be as good as a talk show host, even without the autocue.

Read more about the guy with the dead duck here. It’s quite the story.

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