It is true, indeed, that when you just read a speech, the message rarely comes across as natural, truthful, one’s own words. Seth Godin recently wrote a blog about it.
Well, during presentations, something quite similar can happen, and it can happen in three different ways:
When a presenter reads from slides, the same subliminal lack of connection occurs. It can all sound just too prepared, too mechanical. It can look too much like a plan, a strategy, and if you’re in the audience you can feel like you’re the target of that plan. The slides being used are working like a teleprompter (and a poorly positioned one at that…)
The second way a message won’t come across as natural is when the presenter mechanically follows a script, knows it by heart. The words don’t come out naturally since the speaker is trying harder to stay on script than establish a solid connection with the audience. And if you’re that speaker, good luck getting back on track if a question or challenge derails you.
A third unwelcome outcome can occur when a presenter, in trying to avoid the robotic behavior of reading, goes too far the other way and improvises. The risk here is in improvising too much, missing the main points in doing so, and/or blowing the time allotted for the presentation. It’s one thing to be comfortable; but it’s another thing to be so comfortable you lose track of the purpose of the presentation!
So where is the happy medium? The sweet spot lies in owning the speech, or better, the story being told. Knowing like the back of your hand what are the main messages — the ones that HAVE to be delivered. And rehearsing until that delivery becomes natural, until you’re relaxed enough to make the presentation a conversation and not worry about missing a key point. When you do all of that,you can even improvise.
This isn’t complicated, but it does require some practice. In fact, never underestimate the amount of practice needed to make a key presentation a good presentation. Practice can perform miracles: It can help you overcome nervousness. It can prepare you to deal with the unexpected. And it will optimize the impact of your message.