I thought it might be interesting to look at presentation skills this time round. More specifically I thought it would be interesting to see what NOT to do in presentations and at the same time challenge the conventional wisdom of presentation skills teaching in EFL. So , here goes ... five things that effective presenters don’t do. How many do you agree with?
Effective international presenters:
1. Don’t plan their presentations
2. Don’t explain objectives clearly
3. Don’t practise KISS (keep it short and simple)
4. Don’t speak naturally
5. Don’t want audiences to agree with them
1. Don’t plan presentations
I accept that there are advantages to some planning. The rather polemical statement comes from the fact that I see a lot of ‘bad planning’ which has a negative impact on the content, delivery style and degree of success of the presentation. Remember, planning often results in the following:
- the creation and then presentation of a huge number of unnecessary Powerpoint slides
- scripting and reading aloud
- a real lack of flexibility in presenters who stick to a prepared agenda in the face of an audience keen to get involved with questions
- imposition of cultural values (organisation, structure etc.) onto audiences with other values (they may see ‘planning’ as somehow a lack of imagination and creativity)
The abandonment of planning and a move to trusting in improvisation and flexible adaptation to audience needs requires confidence, linguistic ability and a mindset which sees communication not as a broadcasting process but an interactive and shared process (less presentation than conversation).
2. Don’t explain objectives
Presenters spend too much time explaining objectives when their focus should be to clarify the benefits to the audience of listening to the presentation. Objectives are presenter-centred; benefits are audience-centred. Presenters with a benefits focus will engage people by:
- acknowledging their needs
- delivering relevant information
- providing important solutions to real needs
3. Don’t practise KISS
Many people still promote KISS as some form of universal communication model for those working internationally. I have two major objections to KISS. Firstly, it seems to forget that communication is a situational phenomenon. In other words, how you should communicate depends on the context. For some, KISS will work; for others, it will mean Keep it short and stupid. There will be audiences (research and development scientists, for example) with a high tolerance of complexity, with an expectation of long and weighty argumentation, and with a suspicion of simplicity (which reads as stupidity).
My second objection to KISS is that it’s a very crude data-oriented model of a very complex process. Communication is at once psychological, interpersonal, sociological, linguistic, intercultural ... the list seems never ending. Effective communicators build rapport, influence, manage conflict, negotiate identity, all of which require a sophistication of skills well beyond the mantra of KISS.
4. Don’t speak naturally
The basic idea here is to encourage people to step outside their comfort zone – their natural communication style – and develop a range of behaviours in order to be effective interculturally and interpersonally. Remember, some audiences may want to hear presenters who demonstrate a highly analytical and emotionally neutral style. Others may value personal commitment and need to see charisma and passion. Truly effective international presenters cultivate a range of styles which they can apply to specific contexts without losing a sense of authenticity and honesty. Just being yourself, as I often say, is unlikely to be good enough.
5. Don’t get agreement from audiences
Many companies today are embracing the concept of diversity at many levels:
- ethical (employers should recruit and support from a range of backgrounds)
- demographic (employers should reflect the diversity of the communities in which their customers live)
- pragmatic (we can get better solutions and improve bottom line results if we have different perspectives working on a problem)
So what has this to do with presentations, well ... a lot! Many presentations in business today take place in the context of decision-making meeting. However, decision making has become more complex in modern times. Not only is it more challenging to know which decision to take when faced with the complexity of the modern international economy, but increasing diversity in the workplace – whether in terms of multicultural workforce or multidisciplinary team – means that there often is a very diverse range of perspectives around the meeting table on the right way forward. Presentation technique has to adapt to embrace this new diversity and actively welcome disagreement and differences of opinion in order to leverage the potential this offers for finding creative solutions.
Presenters need to represent a range of positions rather than single opinions:
Some believe we need to develop an in-company leadership training solution by creating a corporate university. Others will argue that this is a waste of money and we should simply purchase services from the major European business schools. The objective of my presentation today is to look at these different perspectives and set the framework for our discussions today.
Presenters should promote alternative and differing viewpoints:
So, if we look at the information on this slide, it seems that that many large companies favour the use of external business schools over the corporate university. And I think that this is the current opinion around the table. However, I believe we need to take time to look at alternative viewpoints and so I would welcome any disagreements with what I have presented up to now. Mike, I know you are unsure about business schools. Could you say a few words about this?
Presenters must synthesise different opinions to support collective decision making:
So, to sum up, I would say that there are clear and powerful arguments on both sides. On the one hand, business schools offer excellent quality but they are pricey and don’t offer tailored solutions – more a generic leadership training. An in-house university could be cheaper and provide a more tailored concept for the company but, in using our own people, we cannot guarantee the same quality as business schools. I think this is the framework of the decision so I’ll stop there and hand back to Paul to lead the discussion.
So, that was a slightly alternative look at presentation skills. Look forward to talking next time.
BOB DIGNEN is a director of York Associates. He specialises in intercultural skills programmes and international team seminars which he delivers to clients in Germany, Switzerland, Iceland and Sweden. He is accredited to use The International Profiler (an intercultural profiling tool) and is also an advanced practitioner of TMP (Team Management Profile – an international team profiling tool).
As an author, he worked on English365 for Cambridge University Press and has written 50 Ways to Improve your International Presentation Skills. He is also co-author of Developing People Internationally, a multimedia international team training resource.