The Presentation Mistake You Don’t Know You’re Making, via HBR

If your New Years resolutions include improving your presentation skills, you’ll want to check out this recent study and article from Harvard Business Review. Has this happened to you…?

“During an interview, your potential new boss asks you to briefly describe your qualifications. At this moment, you have a single objective: be impressive. So you begin to rattle off your list of accomplishments…”

…and before you know it, 5 minutes have gone by. Fear kicks in, the clock is running, and we resort to lists instead of the big picture.

Getting clear, concise and specific in an interview, presentation, or meeting isn’t always easy, especially if we are focusing on the quantity of our material as opposed to the quality.

Naturally, our instincts tell us so because of a phenomenon called “Presenter’s Paradox”… the assumption that more is better.

“More is actually not better, if what you are adding is of lesser quality than the rest of your offerings. Highly favorable or positive things are diminished or diluted in the eye of the beholder when they are presented in the company of only moderately favorable or positive things.”

So if more is not the answer, what do we do? 

  1. Consider choosing a new objective – “be impressive” sounds fine, but we owe it ourselves to really understand and get clear on our objective, and work backwards from there. Improvisers choose every action based on their character’s objective and it does wonders to help them inform the scene and navigate the unknown.
  2. Less lists, more stories – use storytelling to help focus on the big picture. Turn your bullet-point accomplishments into key story points with a beginning, middle and end. Look to the Story Spine for help on this one.
  3. Ask yourself “The 5 Why’s” to help you get clear and specific.
  4. Remember that even though you’re in the hot seat, the interview or presentation isn’t all about you. Follow the improviser guideline of “making your partner look good” by finding opportunities for connection, commonality and interaction.
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