I wasn’t the most impressive presenter at the conference

I while ago I presented at a big multi-speaker conference, and the speakers got compared… it’s inevitable in a way, I suppose.

It wasn’t the speakers who were comparing each other (except to help each other out, nicely)… it was some people in the audience. It’s absolutely natural and inevitable! But there was one particular set of comments in the chat that caught my eye. They said things like

  • this guy is dominating the stage, it’s awesome
  • what fantastic stage presence
  • so powerful a speaker

I must admit I raised my eyebrow (metaphorically). These people weren’t wrong, because he absolutely was all of those things.

But I was mildly unimpressed. Why? Because if the audience were noticing how ‘kickass’ the presenter is, they’re paying commensurately less attention to what he’s actually saying. The speaker had become the point of the presentation instead of his content.

I spent some years touring as a lighting designer for dance companies, and I regularly got comments such as “oh, I didn’t realise lighting was designed – I though it just happened”. Imagine how I’d have felt if people who’d paid to watch dancers said things to me me “fantastic lighting”.

It would be flattering, but it would also rather miss the point!

So it was with this presentation. A great message, but overshadowed by the presenter’s need to be seen as an awesome presenter. So when people talked about “take-aways” from the day, very few people were able to articulate what they’d taken away from Mr Macho’s presentation. 

On the other hand, people couldn’t remember the content of the utterly diffident presenters either, because they’d tuned out. The presenter wasn’t “big enough” to hold attention. It turns out there’s a sweet spot – and as soon as I say it, it’s obvious, isn’t it.

You want enough ‘dominance’ to be taken seriously but not so much that it’s noticed

The trick lies in finding that sweet spot.

So how do you find the ‘sweet spot of dominance’? Honestly, I can’t tell you ‘cos it’s going to be different every time, but I can give you a few principles to use that should help you pin it down. Think of them as questions to ask yourself. 🙂

  • at the end of every section in your presentation ask yourself if you did anything intended just to make yourself look better – and if it was a good thing in the end
  • did you use the minimum amount of bravura necessary to do the job?
  • if someone else gave this presentation, what would they do. Would that be successful?
  • if the presentation had to be given by voice ONLY what difference would it have made?
  • think of your most shy friend. What would they have done?
  • think of one of your most brash friends. How like them were you?
  • at the end, does anyone congratulate you on giving a good presentation?

That last one is a bit of a kicker isn’t it! It’s lovely to be told you did a good job and I don’t mean you shouldn’t expect to be told you were good evverrrrrr, but if lots of people are telling you you were great, ask yourself why they noticed 🙂

Of course, none of this applies if the main point of your presentation was just to be seen to look good 😉


Oh, by the way, if this kind of thinking appeals to you – that is the idea that your presentation is to have an effect on your audience, not just for you to show off – you might be interested in this blog, about the three levels of presenting.

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