Avoid Presentation Blunders
by Dana Bristol-Smith

I was at a luncheon meeting last week of a professional association where the president of the association made what I consider some of the biggest and most annoying blunders that anyone can make from the front of the room.

She stood up at the front table (not on the platform, not with the microphone) and announced after the speaker was finished, "Does anyone have any questions or experiences they would like to share?" to the audience of over 200 people in a large ballroom. Several people did have experiences they wanted to share (this was not a shy group). The few who did stood up at their tables and spoke.

Here are the blunders of the scenario:

  1. Everyone's attention was on the podium which was on the stage/platform. The podium remained empty when the president stood up at her table and spoke.
  2. She could not be seen by everyone because she was not at the focal point of the room - the podium.
  3. Everyone could not hear her because she did not use
    the microphone.
  4. When audience members stood and spoke from their tables, they also couldn't be seen or heard clearly.

This went on for about 10 minutes and completely took away from the professional atmosphere of the meeting. It looked like an afterthought, was unprofessional and didn't work.

I've also been at large meetings where the speaker takes questions from the audience members during the presentation. See if this scenario sounds familiar to you. Someone in the audience asks a question, the questioner is on the other side of the room and you don't hear the question. The speaker hears the question and goes ahead and answers it. You are sitting there trying to make sense of the answer – but you still have no idea what the question was. You feel frustrated. Then the speaker goes ahead and does it again!

So what should the speaker do? Here’s the answer: Repeat the question. What was that? Repeat the question. And, if possible give the questioner a microphone so that everyone can hear, but still repeat the question before responding to it.

Repeating the question not only makes sure that your audience members heard the question, but it also allows you to make sure you heard the question correctly. And it gives you a little bit of time to think before answering the question.

I recently participated in a skill practice activity with a Speaker’s Forum group that I lead. We were each asked a question and had to answer spontaneously. A little later we did a second round where we were each asked the same question again. The difference this time was that we had to repeat the question back to the questioner before answering it. We found that this time our answers were clearer and more succinct. I found that the first time I had only answered half of the question. My mind was already in answer mode as I listened to the question, so I didn’t hear the whole question. The second time I heard both parts of the question and I answered both parts.

Try this activity the next time you are rehearsing a presentation with colleagues or leading a meeting. Ask that everyone who is asked a question repeat it back before answering. I think that you too will find that people don’t always hear the full question, or even answer the right question.

Next time you give a presentation to a large group and an audience member asks you a question, do yourself and your audience a favor and repeat the question before answering.

About the Author

Dana Bristol-Smith is the founder of Speak for Success, an organization that works with companies that want their people to communicate with confidence and credibility. You can email Dana at:dana@speakforsuccess.net