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There Is Always an Exception to the Rule!
by Chris King

In previous articles, I have stressed how important it is to neither read nor memorize your presentation. The first can alienate and /or bore the audience, while the second can easily trip you up when you forget a word or phrase.

Well, I was recently captivated and enchanted by a presentation given by a successful woman and speaker who read her whole hour and fifteen minute speech. Looking around the room, I observed that the other audience members felt as I did. How did she achieve this exception to the rule? And why did she choose to write out and then read her whole presentation when she was obviously in touch with her subject? What made this technique work for her? Read on to discover my take on the “Exception to the Rule!.”

If you are planning to read all, or even part, of your presentation, practice your techniques. I have mentioned before how distracting a presentation can become when the presenter reads to us from PowerPoint slides, overheads and/or a flip chart. The woman with whom I was so delighted was a practiced professional. She made constant eye contact with us, had a great deal of energy in her voice and tone, paused at the right times and places, and when she glanced down to read, read as if she were speaking to us in a natural, conversational way. If I hadn’t, as the editor of this column, been observing so closely, I may not have even noticed that she was reading. She was that proficient!

Make sure that the content of your presentation is worth the effort — for you and your listeners. First of all, there is a difference between the spoken and written word. If you are presenting a paper that has been created for reading, you will have a challenge keeping the audience’s attention, especially if they know that they will have a copy to read later. What was so special about the presentation in question was that the presenter had kept in mind the difference between the written and spoken word. She must have read her speech aloud many times before she shared it with us. She filled it with engaging, personal stories that established immediate rapport, and many quotations from others that fit right into her presentation at the right time and place. Yes, her content was informative, inspiring and well-researched. We all benefited from what we heard and I wondered if she would have been able to share so many fine quotes if they hadn’t been written down.

Physically plan your written document so it works with the least amount of distraction for you and/or your audience. I didn’t see what the written words looked like, because the papers were placed on a lectern at the perfect height for the speaker and out of our view. I do know that if you are reading from a printed piece of paper, the fonts need to be large enough — and not all CAPS, which are difficult to read — with the lines spaced so you can easily see them and follow along without losing your place. The speaker I enjoyed so thoroughly didn’t appear to be turning pages or following along with her finger, but she “didn’t miss a beat.” She shared so much material that there must have been many sheets of paper, however, we were unaware of them.

As always, know your subject inside and out. Fortunately, we had time for questions following the presentation. Our presenter continued with the same ease, command of the subject and obvious knowledge as before. She answered questions with charm, professionalism and to our satisfaction. It became evident that her reading of her presentation never served as a “crutch.” It is a method that works perfectly for her. She speaks on a regular basis to all ages and is in demand as a speaker, so has found a technique that successfully fits her style.

Remember, every rule can be broken, but make sure that the reasons make sense and the results are superb. After all, some of our greatest orators have been politicians whose speeches were written — by them or by speech writers.

In an upcoming article, I will write about the way I use reading when preparing and giving a presentation.

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