19 Paradoxical Things Good Presenters Do

Effective communicators are aware that persuasion is a high-wire act–it requires precision and balance.

Or it’s like Olympic figure skating.  You practice your message until you know every micro move you’re going to make, and you pray that you don’t fall on your face on the final triple-lutz.

Practice makes perfect, but since there is no such thing as perfection, here are 19 paradoxes all great speakers must master.

  1. Be brief, but take your time.  Listeners love brevity, but they dislike people who speak too fast. People who speak too fast are perceived as smart, but they get derogated for being nervous and hard to listen to.
  2. Be yourself, but own the room.  Sometimes being quiet and shy draws people to you.  Go watch Susan Cain’s Ted Talk on the power of introverts.
  3. Be confident, but show your vulnerability.  Audiences don’t like to be dominated., intimidated, or underestimated, and they admire authenticity–to a degree.
  4. Display appealing humility, but don’t be a mouse.  You can be humble and confident at the same time.  Ted Turner once said, “If only I had a little humility, then I’d be perfect.”  Don’t be like Ted.
  5. Relax, but change the energy in the room. Energy is the sine qua non (the  indispensable element) in a persuasive talk. Without energy, nada.
  6. Demonstrate your expertise, but speak their language, not yours. Every industry has its jargon. Every department has its acronyms.  Speak the language of your audience.
  7. Appeal to their self-interest, but don’t pander.  Audiences can smell a schmoozer.
  8. Make a strong case for your point of view, but provide fair balance. Fair balance builds trust.  
  9. Be passionate, but don’t lose your cool. Stay in control of your emotions.  Intemperate speech makes you look bad.
  10. Be animated, but not so much that you look like a Calder mobile in a windstorm.  Gesture with a sense of ease. Stillness moves people.
  11. Gesture, but don’t gesticulate. Gestures have form.  Gesticulation makes you look like you’re swatting away a swarm of bees. Gesticulation is scribble.  Gesture is calligraphy carved into the air.
  12. Dress one step better than your audience, but don’t be showy. Quiet elegance is best.  Fashion is often out of style, but style is never out of fashion.
  13. Be real, but don’t let them see you sweat. Wear a jacket if you tend to perspire in the usual places.
  14. Rehearse so you know it cold, but sound like you’re making it up as you go along. Be conversational, not oratorical.
  15. Look people in the eye in order to read their facial expressions, which is being assertive in order to be empathetic. Empathy and assertiveness are powerful communication skills.
  16. When using PowerPoint, point to items on the screen, but stay connected with your audience.  If your slides are busy, your audience can have trouble locating the item you’re talking about. Pointing to the item on the screen with your hand or a laser pointer can orient them.
  17. Craft a powerful opening and a dynamite closing, but keep the middle clear and simple. Most speeches are like hammocks: they sag in the middle.  But it’s okay to be boring for a while.  Who wants non-stop madcap energy?  
  18. Be persuasive, but don’t be salesy. Salesy is sleazy–sort of like pandering.
  19. Be authentic, but don’t confess that you drank too much the night before and lost your watch in the toilet.  There’s a limit to how much they want to know about you.
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