Public Speaking Demands Productivity

“If I had a gun, I’d shoot myself,” I scribble on the note I pass to my friend Chester, who’s sitting next to me at the LinkedIn seminar. “If I had a gun, I’d shoot them,” he scribbles back. The “them” Chester is referring to are the two people presenting the social media session I was invited to attend by a local networking group. It is, without doubt, one of the single worst presentations I have ever had to sit through.

This out-of- town team says they travel around the country, wafting from state to state, sharing their social media knowledge. But how, I seriously wondered as I sat there, can they be so bad at this?

Lest you think this is just a rant on my part, I do have a productivity point to make; it may just take me another paragraph to get there, so please be patient with me.

The crux of my problem with these two presenters wasn’t that I doubted their technical knowledge; it’s that their presentation was so unprofessional they rendered it unproductive at best, and offensive at worst. What do I mean by unprofessional and unproductive? I’ll tell you:

  • They continually made self-referential jokes aimed at amusing each other, rather than for the benefit of the audience.
  • In a 90-minute presentation, they mentioned their book (a self-published paperback) at least 15 times. It was actually more than that, but I stopped counting after 15. They mentioned their one-day workshop coming up at least six times, after which time I stop counting. They offered, at best, a total of 15 minutes of content on their topic.
  • They regularly went off on riffs and tangents that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic, add no value to the evening and are not in the least bit entertaining or charming.
  • They were dressed as if they are going to spend an evening at a rock concert, or drinking beer in a bar, instead of doing a business presentation for a group of professionals.

OK, why am I telling you all this? Perhaps because I’m annoyed that I took time out of an already jam-packed schedule to have my time wasted? That’s true, but it’s not the reason. I’m telling you because as I was sitting there in disbelief, it dawns on me that productivity isn’t just something we give ourselves. It’s a gift we give other people as well — especially when we are making a presentation.

So whether we’re standing in front of the room with a PowerPoint slide pitching a new client, presenting a report to management or giving a speech to our peers at a conference, we have a responsibility to honor our audience’s time by making it productive. Here are just four simple ways to avoid the kind of basic mistakes the presenters in my story made and, instead, really rock the house with productivity.

  1. Unless you are Jerry Seinfeld, skip the jokes. If you haven’t spent time as a professional comedian, don’t try and turn your presentation into a stand-up routine. Instead, express you humor through telling a relevant story with a slightly funny side to it or using humorous examples of situations everyone can relate to.
  2. Follow the 90/10 rule of promotion. When you speak in public — whether you are offering a free teleclass on search engine optimization or discussing modern web design as part of a panel at a conference — lead with content. Ninety percent of what you talk about should relate directly to your topic, provide value for your audience and be valuable information. Only 10 percent should be promotional — i.e., announcing your upcoming seminar or promoting your book or services.
  3. Develop and stick to a content plan. Before your presentation, prepare the major points you want to make, what the sub-points of those major points are and what stories and examples fit within each topic point. Practice this at home, until you can comfortably get through the presentation with just an outline. Doing so will prevent you from running off on a tangent or riffing into inappropriate topics.
  4. Dress as well as the audience you’re speaking to. Like it or not, people will judge you based on how you are dressed. Always match your outfit to the tone of the occasion. For example, if you are giving a talk at a conference hotel in Hawaii, a top end Tommy Bahama shirt over khaki slacks would be ideal. But for a tony talk to a group of executives in midtown Manhattan, a more corporate look would win the day.

Just remember, productivity does not only live at a desk or in an office building. It’s not just managing our time well and getting through our in-box efficiently, it’s also about making the most of the time we spend with others and the time they invest in being with us.

And now, following my 90/10 rule of promotion, here’s my 10 percent: For more tips, check out my book, “Public Speaking In An Instant: 60 Ways to Stand Up and Be Heard.

How do you make sure your presentations are productive?

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