You’ll probably agree that it would rather strange to come away from a presentation without having learned anything new. Strange? Or does it happen every now and again? Let’s look more closer at what ‘boring’ means in this context. What makes a presentation ‘boring’, and what are the listeners’ needs?
First of all we need to look at babies for a moment. Yes, babies and their needs.
A baby has two fundamental needs: to survive, and to receive a whole package of love, affection, care and appreciation.
Babies grow up and eventually become your clients.
Whether they become listeners at your presentation, readers of a letter, report or proposal you send them, partners in a negotiation or colleagues at a meeting – first and foremost they all need to have two needs met: validation, and a solution to their problem.
It is clear that when you don’t tell your listener anything new, his situation remains the same. Nothing changes. He is unable to work better, faster, more efficiently or become healthier, wiser or wealthier.
So it is important to tell something new to help him on his way.
There is a slight problem with ‘something new’: in a group of listeners you can be sure there’s someone who knows abc, while someone else thinks this is great news!
That’s why it’s important to accept that it can be difficult to judge the precise level of your listeners, and that you rarely have a truly homogeneous group.
This point is fairly easy to explain yet difficult for many to put into practice.
The key lies in communication skills and your willingness to present from a position of vulnerability.
This openness means taking a step towards your listeners. Literally and figuratively.
The communication is composed of two parts: the verbal (oral), and non-verbal (body language).
You can use your words to bridge the gap with your listeners. Use wherever possible the ‘you’ form where you mean the other, not yourself; that form is forbidden anyway.
Have you ever experienced the speaker who seems to be on an ego-trip? His continued use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ easily gives the impression that he considers himself more important than his listeners.
Such speakers – and writers – have considerable difficulty in putting those they wish to influence in the limelight.
It’s hard for them to say “You are now going to see…” instead of “I’m now going to show you…”; or “Let’s review abc…” instead of “I’m going to tell you about abc…”; and they just love saying “I’ve already told you…” instead of “You now know…”
To present in this – for some – revolutionary way is an enormous step towards ‘client orientation’, where the client can be a reader or a listener.
As soon as you focus on the client – the listener for our purposes here – you build the basis for validation.
At some level, he feels appreciated in his role; he may even feel that you treat him as being more important than yourself.
You validate the listener non-verbally by, for example, looking at him.
It is remarkable how handy many speakers are in purposely avoiding any contact with their listeners.
Consciously or unconsciously, your listeners want to be seen. Look at them. Look at the faces. Take your time.
Dare even to look into some of the eyes. Take your time to look around before you begin to speak. Look around in silence.
Take the opportunity to do this every now and again during your presentation, in between your paragraphs, as it were.
You enhance your non-verbal communication by smiling, a particular facial expression you get when you loosen your jaws and breathe out through the mouth.
From this point you might get to smile broadly or even laugh; and when you show that you’re enjoying yourself, there’s a good chance your listeners will enjoy themselves and feel validated once again.
Boring… and stimulating
In 1925 Henry Ford said:
If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’ll always be right.
This statement closely resembles the concept of the ‘self-fulfilling prophesy’. It probably won’t surprise you that there are some speakers who believe they:
a) can’t present
b) don’t have anything new to say, and
c) think they’re boring anyway.
You can imagine for yourself how dangerous these points of view are!
More frequently than not these destructive beliefs derive from a lack of insight into the why and how of presenting.
The most beautiful revelation is that when you present your vision, based on your unique experience and knowledge, then you cannot help but give something new and original to your listeners.
That’s because your experience is unique and your interpretation, too. You seldom need to tell any more than this.
That is one part of the story.
A second part is learning that you do not have to know everything about your subject nor de you need to tell all that you know. Your task is to select and to concentrate on the one clear message – the theme at the heart of your presentation – which helps the listener to change and improve some aspect of his life.
A third part is realising that although you have a ‘slot’ (jargon) of 40 minutes for your presentation, you might pleasantly surprise your listeners by finishing about just some 25 minutes.
An interesting implication is that the subject easier is than most people think, a viewpoint which could positively support your credibility.
A fourth part concerns the ‘packaging’ of your words.
Yes, it’s true that you are boring when you use just one breath to speak quickly, monotonously and at the same volume.
When you learn to speak in short sentences and breathe out in the pauses between them, you automatically have more breath in your lungs and therefore the necessary ‘fuel’ for your voice… which means your voice displays more vitality.
Standing glued to one spot with your arms folded over your chest, or your hands entwined in front of your fly is a form of visual monotony which is also boring.
However, you’ll increase the chances that the listeners enjoy themselves when you use the available space at the front of the room and dare to make gestures from the shoulders.
You need a recognisable frame of reference in order to learn something new.
Facts or concepts that are familiar to your listener help him to place new facts and then learn them.
When there’s any doubt at all about what is ‘old’ and what is ‘new’ you could practice packaging your information in ‘validating sentences’ such as: “You can surely imagine how…”, “Most of you will have experienced at some time or another that…”, “Virtually every day you probably come across…”
Then you tell the truism that they should know and definitely need to know in order for you to go on. Your listeners feel spoken to (not ‘at’), seen and validated.
‘Boring’ is just a word. How you deal with it and the steps you take to come into genuine contact with your listeners, is now up to you!