The two types of presenters: Which are you?

Are you predominantly careful or carefree? Is one better than the other?

I find models useful. They show distinctions that can help explain and predict behaviors.

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

What do careful presenters look like?

Preparing the presentation

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

Delivering the presentation

When careful presenters deliver their presentation, they are thinking about “getting it right.” They refer to their notes a lot, even when they don’t 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 like to enjoy the experience more.

What do carefree presenters look like?

Preparing the presentation

Carefree presenters know “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 or rehearse. They tend to use a whiteboard or flipchart rather than PowerPoint; that will give them greater flexibility.

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 is enjoying the presentation but they don’t really know what they’re meant to do as a result of attending.

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. Then they remember something they forgot to say earlier which is crucial in order to understand what they’re saying now.

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. 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 Caine put it well: “Rehearsal is the work; performance is the relaxation.”

Tony Burns is a presentation trainer at Effective Speaking in New Zealand. For more presentation tips from Tony visit Speaking about Presenting, where a version of this article originally ran.

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