June 3, 2011

Are you making these rookie mistakes?

There's nothing wrong with being an inexperienced speaker. We all have to start somewhere, and it's usually at the beginning. But don't let your inexperience ruin the audience's experience.

Here are 4 rookie mistakes that will produce some measure of distraction and frustration for your audience. Alone, each is mildly annoying. In combination, watch out: You'll be the most memorable speaker they've ever seen -- for all the wrong reasons!

This post was inspired by my husband's texts to me during a conference presentation today. Several of these things happened during the one presentation. I'm sure you can imagine...

1. Not using a microphone

Speaker: "Do I need a microphone? I have a big voice."

Audience (numbering over 100): "Yes!"

It is never the audience's job to tell you if you need a microphone. Most experienced speakers use a microphone when there are more than 30 or 40 people in the room. Bert Decker's post on when to use a microphone mentions other reasons you might need a mic, regardless of the size of the crowd. Don't be macho -- use a mic.

For more on proper use of a microphone, check out these previous posts:

Microphone faux pas
I can't hear you
How to use a microphone

2. Not knowing how your technology works

Speaker: "I've never used a clicker before."

Audience: "Put it in presentation mode."

Speaker: *Searching... searching...*

Finally, tech help arrives.

If you're giving a PowerPoint presentation, the dead giveaway that you're a rookie is that you're standing behind the computer, pushing the "down" arrow key to advance your slides. Not only does this freeze your movement in place or, if you do move around the stage, force you to return to the keyboard every time you want to advance to the next slide, it restricts your eye contact and inhibits gestures.

However, if you have purchased a presentation remote (this one is my favorite) or are using one offered by the venue, then you need to practice with it before your presentation. A simple remote will move slides forward and backward, and will black (or white) out the screen. A more complex remote might have a laser pointer, a mouse, a timer that vibrates when you near the end of your presentation, and more gadgets. You need to know what your remote does and use the features that are appropriate to your presentation.

See my post "Don't be a technology dinosaur" with more tech snafus to watch out for.

3. Telling the audience about your every discomfort

As mentioned above, the speaker asked the audience if he needed a mic; he then proceeded to explain that he didn't know how to use the remote. I hear speakers blurt out all kinds of things at the beginning of their talks: "I didn't have time to prepare," or "I've never spoken in front of this many people," or "I don't have time to tell you everything I want to say."

Buck up! Get it together! It's a performance! Proficiency (at minimum) and brilliance (if we're lucky) are illusions we all want to maintain, and the best way to maintain them is not to tell the audience all the ways we're blowing it.

Mistakes are normal. Nervousness is normal. Lack of preparation (sadly) is normal. But your audience doesn't need to know your every insecurity -- especially if they see nothing amiss. And they especially don't need to know that you couldn't be bothered to take the time to ready yourself fully to speak to them.

4. Not checking your venue and equipment in advance

This is an important preparation practice, and an experienced speaker knows to check the room as early as possible once engaged and to work with the audio-visual staff to make sure everything is planned to run smoothly. Notice I say planned to run smoothly. Even with careful planning, projector light bulbs burn out, computers wig out and speakers freak out.

You may be traveling from afar and don't get to see the room you're speaking in until a half hour before your presentation. Well, you better show up a half hour before your presentation and make sure the furniture and equipment is set up to your liking. If the room's too hot or too cold, if the lighting washes out your slides, if there aren't enough water pitchers, this is your chance to do something about it.

For more on taking charge of your room, check out these previous posts:

Who's the boss? You are!
Don't forget to check your room
Don't forget your pre-flight check
Making a bad space better
Take charge of your event

These are the most obvious rookie mistakes I see in presentations. Share your examples in the comments!

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