I am by no means an expert public speaker but I am on my way to becoming one. Why do I say make this statement that sounds slightly arrogant? In fact it’s not arrogant at all it is me brimming with self-confidence because I know that I am learning and practising the basics. The fundamentals in any discipline ends up being the foundation in which your success is built on. So when it comes to public speaking and delivering presentations at conferences there are right ways of doing things and wrong ways of doing things.

The first is really being prepared. From my Toastmasters club I have learned this lesson over and over to the point where I have rather cancelled a speech than force myself to go ahead. No yes you can have courage to do something unprepared and with a little luck you may survive. The masters teach competence over courage. You will always have a slight edge to you if you are competent with a little fear than courages and ignorant about the reality of situations.

Anyway for the two days I sat through one of the worse conferences I have ever attended. I don’t really care so much about the fact that it was not well attended but more so for the fact that the speakers was really, really bad. And you have to remember that these were professionals, mostly men, with many years of business experience. And the sad fact is that most of them desperately need to be sent on presentation skills AND public speaking courses. Without naming names I will present some of the common mistakes made and some remedies for you to consider…

1. Reading off your presentation

You may as well stop right here. If you are going to read from your presentation you have already lost the audience. Why? They can read faster than you! You must know your subject so well that you only need a few keywords. And Guy Kawasaki describes the optimal font size as 30 pts in his 10/20/30 rule on Powerpoint presentations. The fact that speakers have to read off there presentation says two things: first you are not prepared and second you don’t know how to create effective slides

2. Really bad Powerpoint

This is also the name of a free ebook by Marketing legend Seth Godin. Some of the speakers had such a plethora of colours, animation and text going on it was virtually impossible to read these slides. Yes they end up looking very nice, very fancy but it serves absolutely no purpose. These slides probably take much longer to prepare as well. You must keep it short and simple. From an excellent website called Presentation Zen I recently discovered the Takahashi Method which uses ONLY REALLY BIG TEXT in his presentations.

3. So what factor?

I would blame this partially on the organisers and partially on the speakers. In marketing or communicating a message to an audience you have to tune into radio WIIFM as my friend Tony Roocroft always used to say. For those of you who don’t know WIIFM stands for “What’s In It For Me!” and this is one of the most important questions you must ask yourself, placing yourself in the shoes of the audience, before speaking. I really could care less about most of the presentations. There was no flow, nothing to connect them together.

4. Focus

Focussing on one topic, a central theme, is really important to convey your message. While many of the speakers were all over the show a few them had a really good focus. What happens with narrow focus is becomes much easier to captivate the audience’s attention. You are also able to spend more time with stories and therefore get your message across by way of analogy. Our brains are not programmed to absorb large amounts of raw date, like numbers and statistics in large amounts. In general you are better served by stories that create visual images or when speakers use word pictures.

5. Bad body language

Most of the speakers were either looking at their laptops or looking at the projector screen. Therefore they were not making any eye contact with the audience. And even though it was not a sell-out crowd there were people there who were hungry for attention. Again part of the blame must be assigned to the organisers who did not take the time to evaluate the presentations or speakers. Just because somebody is some kind of corporate executive it does not mean they are a good communicator.

In summary I am very fortunate to have been exposed to presentation skills while working at Deloitte in 1999. During a team building weekend in the Drakensberg my team won the best presentation and being the team leader who delivered the presentation brings back some awesome memories. This path that I have chosen of public speaking is part of my core genius or unique ability.