The two types of presenter: which are you?

by Olivia Mitchell

This is a post written by Tony Burns, my partner and co-trainer.

There are two types of people in the world – those who divide the world into two types of people, and those who don’t. I’m one of the former.

I find models useful – they show distinctions that can help explain and predict behaviors – and they can help us see other opportunities and ways we can grow.

One distinction that, as a presenter and presentation trainer, I’ve found useful, is to look at whether a person is “careful” or “carefree” when it comes to creating and delivering presentations.

It’s a question you might like to ask yourself. As a presenter, are you predominantly careful, or carefree?

What does a careful presenter look like?

Preparing the presentation

They plan their presentation. They think about their audience and their needs. They work out what their key message will be and create a structure for their talk that will take their audience on a logical journey. They think about stories and statistics – what evidence will support their message and they design effective PowerPoint slides or other visual aids that will help the audience to understand the points that are being made. They not only think through what they’re going to say, they also create notes or a script. And they rehearse their presentation – maybe many times in order to ensure that there is no hesitancy and no mistakes.

Delivering the presentation

When the careful presenter delivers their presentation, they are thinking about “getting it right.” They refer to their notes a lot – sometimes, even when they don’t really need to. As a result, they don’t look at their audience as much as they could. And they appear as if the presentation is a trial – something painful, rather than an opportunity to connect with people.

They tend to say only what is written in their notes – there’s no spontaneity or variety. In fact, the presentation seems mechanistic – there’s no sense of real connection with the audience.

The audience usually gets value from the presentation but would have liked to enjoyed the experience more.

What does a carefree presenter look like?

Preparing the presentation

The carefree presenter knows “in their head “ what they’re going to say. They may jot down a few thoughts but they don’t create a structure – they’d rather let the presentation flow freely on the day and see where things lead. They might think of a few funny stories to tell but they don’t research – and they don’t rehearse. They tend to use a whiteboard or flipchart rather than PowerPoint – that will give them greater flexibility on the day.

Delivering the presentation

When they deliver their presentation they’re really engaging. They connect with their audience resulting in smiles and nods. They have lots of energy and enthusiasm – they move around, gesture a lot and speak with passion.

But they’re hard to follow. It’s difficult to know what their point is. The audience are enjoying the presentation but they don’t really know what they’re meant to do as a result of attending.

In fact some sections of the talk are quite confusing as the presenter goes back over material that they’ve already covered because they’ve thought of something else to add. And then they remember something they forgot to say earlier which is critical in order to understand what they’re saying now.

But then they crack a joke and everyone laughs.

It’s all about timing

OK – I’ve painted two extremes, but you get the point.

I believe it’s useful to be both careful and carefree when you are a presenter – but it’s all about timing.

Before the presentation – be in careful mode. Think, plan, design. Rehearse and get feedback. Create a presentation journey that is easy for you to present and for your audience to follow. This will make your delivery job easier.

But when you stand in front of your audience to deliver – switch to carefree mode. Don’t be overly concerned if the words don’t come out exactly as you planned – the audience won’t know.

Focus on your audience members. One by one, talk to them as if there’s just you and them in the room. The odd mistake or pause to think does not matter – in fact it makes you more real. Carefree is not the same as careless – it’s a mode in which you trust yourself to deliver with ease the material you’ve carefully crafted.

English actor Michael Cain puts it well – “Rehearsal is the work, performance is the relaxation.”

So both attributes are useful to a presenter – it’s useful to be careful before the presentation and it’s useful to be carefree, during the presentation.

If you realize that you’re strong on one attribute, recognize that strength and keep using it. But your opportunity for development will be the other attribute and by developing that side, you will add to the impact and influence you can achieve through your presentations.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

thom singer August 27, 2011 at 2:16 am

This is a great article. At first I was thinking..”What… you need to be a combination”… but then I saw it was extremes for that exact point.

No speaker who is asked to address and audience (free or paid) should ever “wing it”. Preparing is done out of respect to the audience. Not preparing is the opposite.

At the same time, if you are so planned that you are like a robot, then the audience loses.

Everything needs to be done for those who have butts in the chairs, not for the speaker!

Reply

Olivia Mitchell August 29, 2011 at 9:42 am

Hi Thom – I agree with all your points

I found that the “wing-it” speaker is often saving themselves from ‘pre-presentation anxiety’ – the nervousness caused by thinking about the presentation and having to prepare and rehearse. Sometimes when they ‘wing’ it, they get a good result. Unfortunately they see this as a cause – not merely a correlation and then ‘wing-it’ becomes their winning formula – dangerous stuff.

On the other side of that, in our courses Olivia and I are often trying to get presenters to enjoy delivering their well planned material. They can be, as you say, like robots, reciting their material – afraid of a pause or making mistakes. We’ve found the solution is to get them to focus on individuals – “those who have butts in the chairs” as you put it. Then they often regain their natural care-freedom.

Thanks for your thoughts – Tony.

Reply

Dr. Chad August 29, 2011 at 9:35 am

Interesting, Tony. I like the extremes, and I like that you refuse to vote for one or the other. I like that Thom says it’s about the audience and respect for the audience, as well. Good points.

Reply

Ezeanya Jonas May 15, 2012 at 4:33 am

Careful vs Carefree. Hmmmm. Here’s how I like to put it: Do the best you can to develop a plan. But in the end, the plan is useless. The planning process itself is what matters. When it’s time to perform, the flow is natural, not scripted.

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Piotr Stanek March 2, 2013 at 4:24 am

Hello Olivia and Tony

Agree with this topic.

The right preparation is kind of respect to the audience.
As for the delivering the presentations it is very hard to connect with audience when you almost recite. Carefree delivering means for me the kind of flow.

thanks for this post :)
best
Peter

btw. sorry for my unintentionally mistakes

Reply

Ryan July 2, 2013 at 7:57 pm

Hi Olivia,

I am reading your articles and i think you are very creative.
Would you mind if i used a few of your articles in my presentation skills book? i will mention your name and reference. Thank you.

Reply

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