Presentation Baggage

Presentation Baggage Causes Barriers to Learning

Recently I had a lively phone call with a potential client. It was clear that he had done his homework on us and our competitors and had prepared some tough questions for me.

Here’s my favorite question: “What’s the biggest barrier you face when working with people in your workshops?”

I love this question. My answer came rather easily because it’s something we talk about a lot here at Turpin.

The biggest barrier when working with business presenters is the baggage they carry.

Here’s what I mean.

Most business presenters took some form of Public Speaking 101 back in college. In that class, they learned that you should

  • Always start with an outline.
  • Memorize the opening of your speech.
  • Vary your intonation to be more interesting.
  • Avoid nervousness by looking at people’s foreheads, not their eyes.
  • Practice makes perfect.

Some business presenters have also taken ineffective rules-based corporate training, which is often based on the 101 model. (We wrote about that in our white paper, which you can download.) In these workshops, they were given rules such as

  • “You need to hold your hands like this.”
  • “You should pinch your fingers together so that you won’t be nervous.”
  • “Never ever put your hands in your pockets.”
  • “Never ever turn your back to your audience.”
  • “Always stand to the right of the screen.”
  • “Never look at your slides.”
  • “You need to look them in the eye for at least 3 seconds.”
  • “Never say ‘um.’”

Many have received well-intentioned (and not helpful) feedback from their managers, such as

  • “Present more like Sam. He’s dynamic and funny.”
  • “You sound like you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
  • “You need to smile more.”
  • “You move your hands too much.”
  • “You don’t move your hands enough.”
  • “Speed up.”
  • “Slow down.”
  • “You’re too long-winded.”

All of these experiences—the rules, the bits of bad advice—pile up and become presentation baggage. These presenters can’t possibly be effective and confident because of it. Their brains are so full of rules that must be followed that there’s little brain power left to engage people in the conversation taking place.


The bulk of what we do in our presentation skills workshops is to help people unlearn. We give people permission to let go of the baggage. When they do this, they learn that they can rely on their own instincts and settle into what we call an “orderly conversation.”

We call it: Find your focus. Be yourself. Only better. We’ve blogged about this before, but here’s what we mean.

Find your focus means to understand what skills and techniques help you settle your mind and be present. The skills that work for you may be different than someone else’s, but that’s OK since we all respond to the challenges of presenting differently.

Be yourself means to stop trying to emulate someone else. Just be you and rely on your instincts. This is sometimes more difficult than you’d think, but at the heart of this idea is the distinction between self-awareness and self-consciousness.

Only better means that once you are engaged and comfortable, you will be able to manage the challenges of presenting. You’ll be able to read and respond to non-verbal cues from your audience. You’ll know when you’ve said enough, and it’s time to move on. You’ll know if you need to slow down. You’ll be in control.

This process helps people let go of their presentation baggage, and it makes all the difference.

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