In Presentations, Normal Isn’t the Same as Effective

New normal is a frequently heard phrase these days, describing everything from the tough economy to instability in the Middle East to the make-up of the modern family. I’m thinking maybe it’s time for a new normal in presentations because the old normal isn’t working very well.

Too many times I hear my clients say, “…but that’s the norm…that’s what’s expected…” when explaining why they continue to follow bad presentation practices.

But when did the norm become synonymous with effective?

Let’s look at some of the worst “normal” practices and consider what might make for a new normal.

The Norm: Using copious bullet points, filling up each slide until there’s almost no white space left.

The New Normal: Using only key words and phrases, not sentences, on slides. Drastically reducing word slides in favor of visuals (charts, graphs, illustrations, pictures) and more dialogue with the audience.

The Norm: Reading from the slides. Continually turning to the screen to read so one’s back or side is to the audience.

The New Normal: Being well enough prepared that reading the slides isn’t necessary. Making continual eye contact with the audience to engage them and read their reactions.

The Norm: Using filler words — ums, ahs, you knows — to the extreme both in the middle of and between sentences.

The New Normal: Replacing filler words with a pause to gather thoughts and let the audience absorb what’s been said. Practicing enough before the presentation so the delivery flows smoothly without the crutch of filler words.

The Norm: Handing out the PowerPoint deck as a take-away.

The New Normal: Recognizing that the slides and handouts serve two different purposes. In keeping with having less detailed slides, providing a more detailed handout that includes information/resources that will be useful to the audience after the presentation.

Moving from the norm to a new normal doesn’t happen overnight. If a major change isn’t feasible or comfortable, gradually may be the best way to implement improvements in your presentation practices.

Then step by step the norm will become so much more effective.

About the Author:

Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington D.C.-area business communications training firm, which offers a suite of public speaking and presentation skills programs geared to creating confident, persuasive speakers. Visit Kathy’s website at to subscribe to her bi-weekly presentation tips or her blog where you’ll find fresh insights on public speaking that are engaging, sometimes irreverent and always practical.

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