Article Category: Speaker Habits

10 Presentation Habits
My College Students – And You –
Must UN-Learn (Part 2)


Yesterday, Alex Rister introduced five habits that college students need to purge.

In this article, she continues with five more negative habits.

6. Faking or acting when delivering.

Delivery should be authentic and natural.  Often, students have incorrectly learned that audiences respond to funny and loud presenters, and they rely on foolish antics or acting like someone they are not.  I frequently see students trying too hard to be outgoing like the class clown.

Don’t invent a new persona when presenting, and don’t rely on gimmicks to win over your audience.

Last week, my students delivered persuasive presentations.  The last student to present was the shy, quiet kid in class who rarely speaks to anyone except when spoken to.  Automatically, this student had the audience’s attention because they quieted to hear him talk for the first time.  This quiet student didn’t stand on his head or juggle fire.  He didn’t tell jokes or try to make the audience laugh.  Instead, he was true to himself.  His delivery was effective because it was him!  Through his delivery, he showed his authentic self: quiet and reserved, yet knowledgeable and super duper smart.  He had the best delivery of anyone in the class.

How to Un-Learn this Habit…

Remember that audiences respond to real presenters, people who act in front of the room the same way they do in real life.  Don’t invent a new persona when presenting, and don’t rely on gimmicks to win over your audience.  In order to avoid faking or acting when delivering your next presentation, focus on developing your authentic speaking persona.  What are you like in real life?  Write down the 5 to 10 words your family and friends would use to describe your personality.  You want to embody those characteristics in front of an audience.

7. Creating bullet-ridden, ineffective slides.

Overused templates full of bullet points and too much text are not “visual,” so they do not work as visual presentations.  My students learn from their teachers that they should select a template in Keynote and put their entire script on a slide.  This results in the student turning around and reading his or her slides.  This breaks all three legs of Endicott’s presentation stool.

A student in a previous class argued, “I like slides with bullet points!  I’m not a visual person.  Why should I change my PowerPoints?”  This very student raised his hand a few lectures later to ask me what kind of font I was using because he liked it so much.  Clearly, he was a visual learner and didn’t even realize it.

How to Un-Learn this Habit…

Don’t resist the gospel of Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte!

  • If you have a lot of material to convey, pass out a document at the end of your speech filled with text, data, and important information.  You must remember  that Keynote and PowerPoint were designed to be visual aids – not a container for your 17-page report.
  • Reynolds and Duarte teach us the proper principles of presentation design, so study these masters and improve your visual design skills.  Start with Reynolds’ Presentation Zen and Duarte’s slide:ology.
  • Reynolds and Duarte teach the picture superiority effect, which says that audiences remember high quality images and photographs more than text.
  • Reynolds explains that a slide is “glance media.”  Like a billboard, a slide should convey a message that can be digested in 3 seconds.  Try the glance media test to ensure your slides will connect with your audience.
  • Duarte also asks us to try another test: the Twitter test… If audiences aren’t engaged, they are complaining about yet another boring presentation on Twitter or Facebook.

It’s your job as a presenter to engage your audience, so meet their needs by thinking like a designer and creating visual slides.

8. Starting with an apology.

I’m sorry, I had a lot of other work to do, and I didn’t have time to put a lot of effort into my speech.”  “I’m sorry, I’m sick today, so my voice isn’t going to be what it usually is.”  “I’m sorry, I’m really nervous.”  Nervous students apologize throughout their speech, but all students make the mistake of apologizing at the beginning of a speech.

Start with a positive!  If the first thing you say is negative, you create a negative impression on your audience, and you lose credibility.

This month, I had a student come to class and admit to a few of his fellow classmates that he wasn’t confident in his material.  The first thing out of his mouth when he stood up to do his presentation was, “I’m sorry, everyone.  I’m really shaky.  I just drank a 5-Hour Energy.”  By calling attention to the fact that he was shaking during his presentation, his audience couldn’t focus on his content because they were looking at his trembling hands.

How to Un-Learn this Habit…

Start with a positive!  If the first thing you say is negative, you create a negative impression on your audience, and you lose credibility.  You have 6 seconds to make a positive first impression on your audience; don’t waste that time apologizing.  Garr Reynolds tells us to start with P.U.N.C.H. … Use your first 6 seconds to make your audience go, “Wow! I want to hear more.

9. Believing that a good speaker never says “um.”

Some of my students believe that a good speaker never says “um” or “uh” and often ask on the first day of class if they will be penalized for this.  Students admit many of their former teachers have taken off 1 point from their overall presentation score for every “um” they utter in a speech. “Um” is an everyday part of communication, so why shouldn’t it be a part of public speaking?

Focus on delivery as a whole instead of nitpicking every sound that comes out of your mouth.

Teachers who insist on perfectionism in presentation are irrational and don’t understand the point of natural delivery.  My students learn that there is no such thing as “perfect,” and I only want their delivery to be authentic and natural to the person they truly are.

How to Un-Learn this Habit…

Focusing on perfectionism in delivery actually takes you farther and farther away from your authentic self.  This isn’t a good thing because, as Garr Reynolds teaches us in The Naked Presenter, naturalness is the key to effective speech delivery.  Instead, accept “um” as a part of our communication and language.  Focus on delivery as a whole instead of nitpicking every sound that comes out of your mouth.

10. Winging it.

Sometimes on the morning of speech day, a student will say to me or to his fellow classmates, “I’m just going to wing it.”  This commonly used phrase results, 99% of the time, in an “F” on the presentation.  The other 1%?  A “D.”  Research and preparation are essential for all 3 legs of the presentation stool.  If there is ever a presentation fail in my classroom, that fail is the result of a student “winging it.”

How to Un-Learn this Habit…

Want to learn more?

Nancy Duarte explains that 36 to 90 hours of preparation are essential to pull off a successful one-hour presentation.  Please do not ever believe you can “wing” any speech.  Your audience expects preparation from you as a presenter; otherwise, they wonder why you’re leading them in the first place.  Aristotle explains that ethos is all about the character and credibility of a presenter; an unprepared presenter has zero credibility.  Remember the success rate of students “winging it” in my classroom, and remember that success rate applies to the real world, too.

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