Another Helping of Your Questions

A holiday treat for you – simple and useful answers to your presentation skill-orientated questions. This month, you asked …

#1.  Is it appropriate to thank the audience after a presentation?

There are only a few rules for workplace presenters. One I’ve lived by for over 25 years is to always operate with uncommon courtesy. That suggests saying ‘Thank You’ when you get a gift. And an old Sicilian proverb warns that you should never insult the gift giver by refusing it or devaluing it.

For example, the meeting planner gave Tony a gift by inviting him to speak. Then, the audience gave him another gift when they showed up and stuck around. And, because he met their expectations and needs, they gave him yet another gift with their reactions, participation and applause.

So, I always briefly thank them for the invitation during my intro and for their enthusiastic participation during my summary. Works for me. Works for them. Works for my Sicilian traditions.

2.  Did ‘Right’ become the new ‘Ummm?’

Right! At a recent business conference, the experienced and otherwise effective speaker had a conspicuous habit of saying ‘… right’ all the time. It was as if she replaced the annoying ‘ummm’ with the equally annoying ‘right’.

And while the vocalized pause ‘ummm’ doesn’t convey actual meaning, ‘right’ does. If the inflection ends upward, it suggests a question, as if the speaker is subtly seeking affirmation and validation of her content. Not exactly projecting confidence or competence. Other speakers I’ve encountered substitute ‘OK’ for ‘ummm’ with similar annoying results.

I offer a simple solution to my presentation coaching clients. Replace ‘ummm’, ‘right’ or ‘OK’ with … wait for it … SILENCE. I encourage them to overcome the temptation to keep making speech sounds while thinking, looking at notes or changing slides and get comfortable with silence. The resulting pauses allow them to do those things naturally as well as taking a comfortable breath or a sip of water.

So, Harness the Power of the Pause and turn purposeful silence into the new ‘ummm’.

3.  I’m speaking about our company’s commitment to the community at a local chamber event. Should I ask the host to introduce me from a prepared text?

Short answer – yes. Always. Presenter intros should be short, focused on the topic and group, written for the ‘ear’ – not the ‘eye’ and concisely answer the question on most audience members’ minds – ‘Who is this person and why should we listen?’ It also answers their simple and important ‘WII-FM’ question.

The first things we say to the audience are the most important, set the tone, stress the audience-centric value proposition of our content and define audience expectations. So, those first critical moments shouldn’t be all about us.

Once in a while, the host says something lame like ‘Our speaker gave me this intro to read to you, but I’ll let him introduce himself.’ When this happens, the speaker should start with an attention-grabbing opening and then do a self-intro.

And it’s really lame when the host does deliver the intro, only to have the presenter say something like ‘As Fred indicated, I’m … ‘and repeats or expands on the background details. But then …  you can’t fix stupid.

Next month – we’ll start the year off with a new category for your questions and my answers. Till then … Happy Holidays!