It seems almost every time I visit LinkedIn, I see a post about how to deliver a perfect presentation. This makes me cringe. If you click on any of these articles, you’ll inevitably find that the tips and tricks mentioned are applicable to the speechmaking process — not business presentations.
Speeches and Business Presentations Are Not the Same
The presentation skills training industry has a problem defining itself. Speeches and presentations are constantly tossed into the same big bucket, and the bucket is labeled Public Speaking. Because of this, the authors of these articles confuse business presenters. The tips themselves aren’t bad for speechmakers. But for the business presenters we work with, they are inappropriate and cause frustration.
We know this because we work exclusively with business communicators, and much of our work centers around helping them unlearn the advice they’ve been given by well-meaning yet misguided presentation “experts.”
Here are six words that should be red flags for any business presenter reading a book, article, or blog about presenting.
When you see them, beware. They aren’t for you.
- Performance: The presentations you deliver are not and should never be performances. They are conversations that need to take on a life of their own once they begin. We call them Orderly Conversations.
- Stage: When writers talk about “taking the stage,” what they’re talking about is a performance.
- Entertain: While it’s fine for a speech to be entertaining, presentations shouldn’t be. Can we have fun during a presentation? Absolutely. But if you plan to be entertaining, chances are good that you’ll wind up wasting your audience’s time.
- Jokes: I don’t need to elaborate on this one, right?
- Perfect: Presentations cannot be perfected. Sure, they can “go very well,” they can “succeed,” but setting out to make them “perfect” won’t work. When presentations succeed, the presenter initiates and manages a lively, productive conversation with the audience.
- Practice: You wouldn’t think that practice could possibly be a bad thing, but if presenters practice to be perfect or practice to the point of scripting, they will be in big trouble. What you should do before you present is prepare to be flexible and responsive.
In addition to those six words, be wary of images of microphones, podiums, and stage curtains. When was the last time you delivered a business presentation standing behind a podium on a stage? Exactly. Point made.
If you’re a business presenter, give yourself permission to ignore some of the recommendations you read, no matter how many times you see them. The work you do as a presenter is uniquely challenging, and understanding how it differs from speechmaking is the first step toward improvement.
For a deeper dive into our unique methodology that replaces these red flags – and more – with practical advice for businesspeople, check out this comprehensive (and downloadable) guide: Improving Presentation Skills: The Businessperson’s Essential Guide.