Presentations, culture and education

Barack Obama

Image via Wikipedia

Recently I attended a training where the facilitator gave us the following task; « think of a great speaker and name her/him ». The American among us couldn’t think of any, and the facilitator said; “that’s because you Americans are such good speakers, all of you!”.

It is true, Americans are really good at presenting. So why is that?

Because they are educated to present from early on in their lives.

In a setting where you have the luxury to see many different nationalities present at the same time, it is quite interesting to see how language and culture shine through. Sharing some recent personal experiences; e.g the French speak in long and complicated sentences that may lead you off the subject (known to like complexity), the Germans keep physical distance to the audience (respecting personal space), the Americans are straight to the point (time is money) and the Australians sit down with you (informal and laid-back).

I went to a seminar yesterday, there were people from all over the world. And of I-don’t-know-how-many presentations I saw, there were probably 2-3 people who did a great job on slides, voice, content, movement and eye contact. It puzzled me that people at this level (mostly leaders and speakers) have not received some kind of presentation training. It’s like people should just know how to do it. But, actually, outside the US, not many learn these skills at school. Considering that public speaking rates very high on any scale of stress and anxiety, and it is an important part of business life, it is probably a good idea to include presentation skills as part of basic education. One could take the approach that this kind of training should be the business world’s job, and many companies do offer it. However, speaking in public comes in at so many aspects of life that I would vote for the first option.

Offering my 5 cents worth of advice on presenting, I would suggest the following:

–        Look at your audience

–        Speak at a speed that people can follow, particularly if you have an international group

–        Don’t overcrowd your slides, let people be able to read what is there

–        Depending on the audience, have someone check the text

–        If you choose to have no slides, write some key points on a flipchart so that the visual memory listeners get some tags to remember your speech by

–        Ask for feedback by trusted people so that you can constantly improve and learn

Enhanced by Zemanta