Performance anxiety

My recent trip to a scientific conference allowed me to muse on many things including presentation skills. Most disappointing was not the standard of presentations constructed but the issues of poor delivery (p3) It is not enough to have a great idea if that idea cannot be transmitted. Delivery of your presentation is a essential part of its success.




Some quick pointers on delivery.


One speaker managed to look from the audience to the screen 54 times during a 5 minute, 10 slide minute presentation. This is hugely distracting and ultimately the audience will give up on one of the targets; either concentrating on the speaker (unlikely) or on the screen (unhelpful). Clearly this is a sign of nervousness. It will be improved by practise.


In spoken word, very few people stumble with their script. Even if you do, the audience has no concerns. If one attempts to read from a script one of three things will happen. You will simply read it out, verbatim. And unless you are an actor of some calibre this will be expressionless and disengaging. If you manage not to read it, you will     stumble    not over important words or concepts but over meaningless adverbs and unnecessary adjectives. Even if you have practised well, you will still check, intermittently and obviously, that you are correct. This will    interrupt   your flow and ensure that the top of your head is viewed on a regular basis. If you need a script, then you also need to practise more. A audience will easily forgive the stumble of a speaker without a script but bore quickly of someone with a script doing the same.


This has been highlighted earlier but once the pointer starts pointing at points the pointer of the pointer’s point is quickly lost to the point at which the pointer is pointing with a pointer at every point, pointlessly. If you need to highlight something on a slide that is much more effectively done in the construction (p2)


The value of text on a slide is poor to useless. Making lists and revealing lines on a slide is only a marginal improvement but is exceptionally patronising to an audience if this is more than about 3 lines. Worse still is running through a slide of multiple lines of a slide, rapidly, bringing in each line as you speak. The audience will be distracted by every change and will be unable to hear anything.


If the speaker stands on the stage, attempting to hide behind the podium, huddled and hunched, failing to engage the audience in eye contact and looking down at notes or monitor this gives the very clear message that this presentation has little value. If the speaker believes this, they should not be on the stage. If the speaker believes their work has value then their body language needs to reflect this. Yes it is scary. We all feel scared. Fake it ’til you make it.


Larger auditoria require some form of amplification. If the microphone is fixed then it is essential that the speaker recognises the limited direction and area within which they must speak. Turning to face the screen (unnecessary) will often be outside this zone and render speech inaudible. As soon as you turn back the volume will increase. As the speaker’s attention is on the screen and not the audience few speakers perceive the problem. Look at the audience through the microphone. If you can’t see the microphone, it can’t hear you. (Radio mikes present additional and more comedic fails)

So, how to avoid these issues? Practise helps a lot. This cannot be emphasised enough. Practise in an appropriate sized auditorium and in front of a real audience if you can. Have a friend critique your performance and ideally watch a video. This will show you what ticks you have, where you look, how badly you perform with a script and how like a baby Jedi you appear waving your light sabre around. Watch previous sessions of you conference and be aware of what happens to previous speakers. Can you hear them, are you distracted by their activity. Note things to avoid. Stand tall when you take the stage. Stare the audience in the eye and tell them what you feel, what is important and why they should listen. THAT’S why you’re there.

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  1. Pingback: 200 and counting! - p cubed presentations

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