Hearing someone say “I’m just going to wing it” sends me into a state of panic. Students who don’t prepare or practice for their presentation do not do well; there has never been “wing it” situation gone right.
Surprisingly, even in the high-stakes business world, few presenters truly invest the time they should to 1) preparing for their content/message, 2) designing effective, audience-centered slides, and 3) practicing their delivery/putting all three “legs” of the presentation ecosystem together. As Nancy Duarte explains in her book Slide:ology, an essential element of preparation includes feedback and constructive criticism. But how much time do we actually spend preparing? And why should we prepare when everyone else around us doesn’t prepare?
My students deliver presentations almost every single month that they attend school. That means they come to my class with a slew of bad habits that take time and effort to correct.
First, since their other instructors aren’t presentation experts, the bar is often set very low for these students. The students can “wing it” and make an “A” because the instructors haven’t studied, taught, lived, and breathed public speaking and presentation. Usually, if the content is there, and if all of the content is written out on the slides, the instructor feels the student did his or her job. Sadly, this perpetuates mediocre, selfish presenting as opposed to audience-centered presenting that will resonate.
Also, since the students who spend hours and hours on preparation earn the same grades as the students who “wing it,” my hard-working students become frustrated that their efforts don’t actually pay off in other classes. If a student is being graded on how well he or she can write a script out on a slideshow, turn around, and read those slides, why present in an effective way? If a boring, standard, death-by-PowerPoint earns an “A,” why bother presenting any other way?
Third, the students see terrible presentations every single day at school. Most students complain that their teachers bore them to tears using death-by-bulletpoint slides and the standard, sterile lecture format. Why should the students work hard to develop strong presentations when their own teachers don’t prepare themselves?
These are questions I am faced with each time I get a new batch of Professional Communication and Presentation students. And, ultimately, the students are faced with a choice. They can a) completely transform the way they communicate and speak to an audience or they can b) continue being mediocre.
Most people opt for mediocrity. Andrew Dlugan examines the public speaking bell curve in “Average Speakers Suck. Don’t Be Average.” Dlugan explains that, while it’s okay to be “average” on the bell curve of height or of golf-playing ability, if you are an average speaker, you suck.
So, yes, most speakers suck. Most presentations suck. Most people revel in their mediocrity and have no problem with their average-ness. Dlugan writes, “Why is the average speaker so bad? Like golf, most people in the world never receive any formal communications training, and they never pursue any informal training either. We all pay the price. Think of the last 50 presentations you have attended. How many kept you interested throughout? Ten? Five? Fewer than five?” (Source).
I explain to my students that if they want to, they can give into mediocrity. Being mediocre is so easy! After all, anyone can present an average speech. However, my students can also decide NOT to be mediocre. They can decide to work to become strong, powerful, effective presenters, and the first step to delivering a message that resonates is to focus on preparation.
How do you resist the constant tug of presentation mediocrity?