Yesterday, I wrote about four ways to be unpersuasive — in the broadest sense. Today, let’s narrow the focus and talk about three things not to do in public speaking. These are behaviors that I see all too frequently and they detract from your effectiveness and your persuasiveness. (For my tips on three things you should do, click here).
Don’t fumble around — I see far too many presenters using the first five to ten minutes of their time fumbling around with their technology. As you’re trying to find your PowerPoint file, I’m reading your desktop — and I often find some very interesting tidbits. Show up early, make sure everything works, and be ready when the audience shows up. Even more radical — give a presentation without using PowerPoint. That simplifies everything.
You can learn more in the video. Speaking of which, this is a good opportunity to acknowledge again that I started this video series when I was still an executive at Lawson. When I retired, Lawson very graciously permitted me to use the videos to build my own practice. I certainly appreciate it.
I’ve never been able to pay attention to more than one thing at a time. I always assumed that this was a shortcoming on my part. I have friends who claim to be good multitaskers — attending to multiple projects and sources of information at the same time. I can focus on a task for hours on end but I’ve never been able to do two things at once. I always envied my multitasking friends.
Then last week, I attended a presentation by Bridget Arend, a professor of psychology at the University of Denver. Discussing how the brain works, she dropped an important tidbit: multitasking is a myth. People don’t really do two things at once. Instead, they are speedy serial task switchers. (Let’s call them SSTSers).
The best SSTSers can shift quickly from one target to another and focus intently on whatever target is in front of them at the moment. They focus intently and shift quickly. I think of expert trap shooters who can aim quickly at one clay pigeon, shoot it, and then — just as quickly — re-focus on another clay pigeon. They would never dream of aiming at two pigeons at once — it just doesn’t work. Perhaps we need to forget the old saying that we can kill two birds with one stone. It doesn’t happen. Believing it does only leads us astray.
This has important implications for communications. First, if you want to communicate to me, be sure you have my attention. If you walk into my office when I’m intently focused on my computer, you may not get my attention for a few minutes. It’s often a good idea to suggest that we go out for a cup of coffee — change the scenery, change the context, and allow me to re-focus. As Suellen can attest, I sometimes look straight at her and yet fail to hear anything she says.
Similarly, audiences don’t multitask well. You need a good introduction to grab their attention and get them to re-focus on you rather than whatever they were thinking about before. Some speakers love to show text-heavy slides while continuing to talk at normal presentation speed. They’re assuming that filling two channels — eyes and ears — will increase the impact. Actually, it’s just the opposite — the two channels cancel each other out. Sooner or later, each audience member attends to one channel or the other. Visual learners (a majority of us) tend to look at the slides while relegating you to oblivion.
This is also a good reason not to mention anything even remotely sexual in your speeches. Rest assured that sex is wildly more interesting than anything you’re talking about. If you mention sex, a good chunk of your audience will wander off on that track, never to return to your track. Sex is the ultimate serial task. Even the best SSTSers can’t switch quickly from that track to another. So, now that you’re thinking about sex, it’s time for me to sign off. I’m not going to get your attention back. See you tomorrow.
Speakers often begin their presentations with a joke. Sometimes it’s funny. Sometimes it’s relevant. Sometimes it’s none of the above. Can humor help persuade an audience? Well, yes and no. Self-deprecating humor can help you build credibility with an audience and that can help you be persuasive.
But the main reason to use humor is to hold the audience’s attention. People like to laugh. So if you make them laugh early in a presentation, they’ll look for additional laugh cues later in the presentation. They’ll pay more attention because they don’t want to miss your next joke.
On the other hand, humor will never move an audience to action. People who are laughing just want to keep on laughing. If you want an audience to actually do something, the most potent emotion is anger. Humor helps people absorb information. Anger moves people to action. It’s why our political ads are so angry. Learn more in the video.