a normal conversational pace. Pause periodically, especially after making a key point, to give listeners a chance to absorb your message. Record your presentations and notice your pace. If you find you're speaking too fast, try to s-l-o-w down.
And Now, Page 24
Vince, a software developer, read his presentation word by dreary, monotonic word. In short order, several people tiptoed out. Then, a few more left and a few more until the room was half empty. An optimist might say it was half full, but when half the once-occupied chairs become vacant, I assure you the room is half empty.
Thankfully, Vince finished twenty minutes early. Ignoring his opportunity to leave and avoid any further humiliation, he asked if anyone had questions. Someone asked a question and he answered adroitly. More questions followed; he responded skillfully. Clearly, he was capable of speaking without a script.
As Vince demonstrated, when you read your presentation, it's difficult to sound conversational or make eye contact with listeners. Practice your material until you know it without needing to read it. If, for legal or other reasons, you're required to read your presentation, practice reading it until you no longer have to keep your eyes permanently fixed on your text.
I'm So Terribly, Terribly Sorry
It's not difficult to empathize with Alfred, an IT manager whose luggage had gone astray en route to the event. He opened his presentation by apologizing and explaining his grungy attire. Then, as he spoke, he apologized again and again. The first apology was appropriate; it let the audience know that he knew he wasn't in professional garb. After that, his apologies became annoying.
Clearly, Alfred's plight was uncomfortable for him. But, to the audience, there was no plight. He'd become the victim of circumstances over which he had no control and everyone could relate. By repeatedly calling attention to the situation, he risked ruining an otherwise good presentation.
If you face a situation in which circumstances are other than you would have liked, mention it once, apologize and provide an explanation if appropriate, and then proceed. Don't belabor the point.
Being human means occasionally doing things in a presentation that might annoy audience members. By becoming aware of your own annoying habits, whether these five or any others, you can purge them from your presentation repertoire. The result: your audiences will be able to focus on your valuable content. And you, in turn, can look forward to your presentations knowing you can engage your audiences and present with confidence.
This article is adapted from Naomi's new book, Presentation Skills for Technical Professionals: Achieving Excellence . IT Governance Ltd., 2010.