Many speakers are guilty of making faulty assumptions about their presentations, and their ability to deliver them well. Sometimes even seasoned speaking professionals like me fall victim to this behavior.
How about you?
In this article, you will learn:
- 8 common faulty assumptions you might be making;
- the subsequent result on your presentations; and
- how to fix your flawed thinking.
8 Faulty Speaker Assumptions
Eight common faulty assumptions that speakers make are:
- Deep knowledge of a topic alone will enable me to present ideas on it.
- My audience members are mind readers.
- I can present information/concepts that took me 3 months to learn in a 20-minute presentation.
- Everyone in my audience is equal.
- I don’t need to practice out loud.
- I’ll have plenty of time to get there.
- If I get off the platform/stage, I will be closer to audience members.
- If I speak at my normal speed, everyone will understand me.
Let’s examine each of these a little deeper.
Assumption #1 — Deep knowledge of a topic alone will enable me to present ideas on it
Knowledge of a subject you are going to speak about is critical, but it is only a beginning to have an impact on an audience. You also need to determine:
- What you want to achieve by delivering the message? In other words, what is your purpose? What do you want the audience knowing, doing, and/or feeling as a result of your presentation?
- Who you are speaking to? What are their expectations, level of understanding, and attitudes. Depending on this, you will organize your materials accordingly, and emphasize the information that is most critical to the audience.
- Logistical considerations — How much time do you have? How many people will be in the audience? What types of visuals will work best? You need to understand all of this to determine how much information you will be presenting — and how to present it.
Assumption #2 — My audience members are mind readers
Unfortunately, audience members never know what you want them to take away from your presentation, unless you tell them multiple times.
Despite what you may think, they are not hanging on your every word. The goal is to be clear and concise. Don’t let them guess.
Assumption #3 — I can present information/concepts that took me 3 months to learn in a 20-minute presentation
Frequently, speakers want to look smart — or demonstrate that they have worked very hard — so they do a data dump. They forget that audience members can only absorb so much information at a time.
Step back and determine what they must know. Leave the rest out, or save it for the Q & A.
Assumption #4 — Everyone in my audience is equal
Typically, there are audiences within an audience. There may be a hierarchy or politics involved. Analyze the audience, and determine which members are the decision makers, and who are the influencers (sometimes they can be the same), and then plan accordingly.
If everyone is equal in rank, play to the masses.
Do your homework. Learn exactly who is in the audience.
Assumption #5 — I don’t need to practice out loud
Thinking through a presentation is very different than speaking it out loud, in a simulated environment, using your notes and/or slides.
Actors, musicians, and athletes all practice. Why should speakers be any different?
Practice helps with fluidity, timing and comfort level. Each time, say it differently, so it doesn’t become rote.
Peter Drucker said, “Spontaneity is an infinite number of rehearsed possibilities.”
Assumption #6 — I’ll have plenty of time to get there
Although the unexpected can happen, speakers should do everything possible to arrive at a speaking event/meeting well in advance.
If you don’t do your due diligence in leaving with ample time, or getting directions, you will likely arrive at the last minute — harried and looking unprofessional.
If other speakers are before you, sit in to get a sense of the tone of the meeting, and how the audience is responding.
By arriving early, you can talk to audience members, and further customize your presentation. And, of course, this allows you time to check your appearance, do some breathing exercises, check your equipment, and to be there to welcome the audience members as they arrive.
Assumption #7 — If I get off the platform/stage, I will be closer to audience members
Many speakers wrongly believe getting off a platform or stage will help them better connect with audience members. But, in fact, the majority of the audience won’t be able to see them when on the same level.
Getting into the audience can work effectively only if …
- It’s a small audience
- The room is set up for this
- You are tall enough to be seen.
Most of the time, the speaker’s need to get closer to the audience can be an annoyance to audience members when they don’t know where to look.
Stay on the platform or stage, and connect with large audiences in better ways, like using questions to get participants to raise hands, and interactive exercises in subgroups.
In a larger venue, try to have the room arranged with several aisles. That way, if you do walk into the audience, you will have a place to go.
Assumption #8 — If I speak at my normal speed, everyone will understand me.
The standard rate of speech in the United States is 120 or 160 words per minute. This varies in different parts of the country.
Speakers need to adapt their rate regionally, as well as when the information is technical and people need time to absorb it, and also when English isn’t a first language. If they don’t adapt, participants may not understood what they’re saying, or key concepts may be missed.
How to Fix Your Faulty Assumptions
Now that you’ve identified these faulty assumptions, how do you fix them?
|Speaker’s Faulty Assumption||Impact on Presentation||How to Fix It|
|Topic knowledge = ability to speak on it.||Delivering the wrong message to the wrong audience at the wrong time.||Spend time preparing. Determine your PAL™ (Purpose, Audience Logistics)|
|Audience members are mind readers.||Confused people who don’t “get” your main point.||Repeatedly provide specific takeaway points in a clear, concise way. Use preview, internal summaries and reviews.|
|Can share all topic details learned in 3 months in a 20-minute speech.||Overwhelmed audience.||Determine the must know, should know and could know. Less is more.|
|All audience members|
|Not all audience members are necessarily the same (knowledge, job level & decision-making role). Delivering the right information to the wrong audience can ruin your credibility and show you’re not prepared.||Find out who you are speaking to before you present — do research online, speak to clients, arrive early to interview some members, etc. Know who your “real audience” is.|
|There’s no need to practice my presentation out loud.||Making mistakes and fumbling — appearing unprepared and unprofessional.||Practice out loud three to six times. Simulate the environment, including use of slides.|
|There’s plenty of time to get to my speech location; no need for directions.||Arriving at the presentation/meeting looking harried. Lacks professionalism.||Use Google Maps or MapQuest, go the client’s website or call your contact person. Leave plenty of time!|
|Getting off the platform/stage brings me closer to my audience.||Most audience members won’t be able to see you when on the same level and will get annoyed.||Connect in better ways, using questions and interactive exercises.|
|My rate of speech is fine for audience members to understand me.||Speaking quickly can lose your audience members’ attention, and prevent the message from being properly conveyed.||Adapt rate accordingly to regions, when the information is technical and also when English isn’t a first language.|
What do you think?
What faulty assumptions have you made, only to learn the hard way?
Please share your lessons in the comments.