In a recent workshop, I coached a learner who was a really strong presenter from the start. She was particularly good at articulating how she wanted to be perceived by her listeners and what she needed to work on to improve. Her main issue was speed. She was excited about her topic, which is great, but that excitement caused her speaking pace to rev up to the point where she could be hard to follow.
She described what she needed to achieve as having “the patience for clarity.” That is, she herself needed to be patient and composed enough to slow down and be clear, to rein in her excitement and use it to power a well-paced presentation.
This got me thinking about audience focus and our own insecurities. So often, when delivering introduction slides, people use phrases such as, “Then I will quickly explain the new initiative,” or “I’ll take just a few minutes to describe our findings.” Why is everyone in such a rush? I have a few thoughts for you to consider, some related to managing the Orderly Conversation and some more psychological.
- People who are more junior seem insecure about the idea that they’ve earned their time in front of that audience, so they want to whip through their presentations as quickly as possible. As our smart learner figured out, this results in the audience getting lost or falling behind in their understanding of the material. This leads to presenters wasting audiences’ time rather than conserving it because they haven’t gotten what they need from it. You have earned your place at the front of the room; keep it by being clear and measured.
- A lot of presenters are afraid of not making it to the end—of not getting through all their material, either because they themselves get distracted or because they know they will get interrupted with lots of questions or discussion.
- First of all, quite simply, some portion of questions will be about clarifying or re-explaining things you’ve already said, and the faster you speak, the more likely it is that people will need such clarification. Having “the patience for clarity” to begin with just might result in fewer clarifying questions.
- Creating a solid outline and introduction for your presentation gives you a strong sense of the whole. Thus, if you do start feeling pressed for time, you can still deliver everything you need to, just with less detail.
- Learn to trust your slides and the level of detail you have built in. If you find yourself padding your presentation with more detail than you need, stop and move on.
- Learning to manage the give-and-take of discussion will allow you to get through what you and your listeners need without rushing.
- Nerves can cause some people to speed up. Pausing to breathe is your best friend when this happens. Not only does a good hit of oxygen relax you, but taking a moment to pause will slow down your speech overall. Pausing after each slide or thought also gives your audience an opportunity to take in and process what you just said.
- Speeding up too much causes some presenters to lose crisp diction, so listeners literally don’t understand what’s being said. Slowing down helps enunciation, which allows listeners to take in all your valuable content.
Of course we sometimes have learners who need to speed up or who seem like low-energy presenters, but more often than not, we have to slow down the speed demons. Remember, you have earned the opportunity to present so make it as easy as possible for your audience to listen and understand by taking your time up there.