30 September 2021
Three Types of Presenters
Presenting at an event can be super stressful, many shy away from it due to anxiety and self doubt, but it can often be the best way to share your knowledge on a subject and grow your network. I have pulled together some observations from my experience of the different types of presenters and how they prepare for their presentations. Hopefully it can bring some wisdom to those of you planning to present but also some humour from those like me who have seen all of these thousands of times!
A bit of Context
Growing up I was always a performer; I nearly have more equivalent qualifications in Drama & performance related subjects than I have fingers (one short of the full 10). But I always found myself more comfortable with the non-planned performance than the performance. Making it up on the spot, improvising, for me it meant more creative control, less preshow anxiety and less self judgement and I always felt it gave me the ability to be more “present”. However, when it comes to presenting in events; Improvising, making it up on the spot can be a dangerous path to walk.
In my 9-year career in events I have seen an awful lot of presentations. I have found that there are 3 types of presenters; The Plan everything, The Plan some things, The Plan No Things, let me tell you about each of them:
The Plan Everything
They often arrive early, if it’s a virtual event I have often exchanged multiple emails prior on how something works or if this is ok. When they send their presentation,
they have more speaker notes than the words in the entire series of Game of Thrones, every single thing is scripted out with exactly what they are going to say.
As opposed to mingling with other presenters before the start they are often going over and over their introductions, they have blocked where they will stand, each hand movement pre-determined and they have done dress rehearsals in the mirror hundreds of times.
This is the “plan everything” presenter, there is nothing wrong with the plan everything presenter. everything they planned to say is said, no point is missed, no stone un turned and the presentation goes down well, In their opinion. The problem with the “plan everything” presenter is engagement; the one thing you can never plan for in a presentation is audience, when planning every single beat, it becomes very difficult to deviate from that specific route you have planned. This means that if your un-tested (in front of an audience) presentation is losing engagement, it’s hard to switch to something else within your presentation that’s going to perk them back up. You must keep following the route.
As an addition to this; I often slot the “Plan everything” presenters with the “I would like to pre-record my presentation” it’s a great way to ensure you get the perfect presentation, every imperfection can be edited out and re shot, but it stops you from having any control over that relationship with the audience, especially in virtual events where that detachment with audience and speaker is already lessened by the lack of presence in the room.
The Plan Nothing
“I’m just going to wing it and see how it goes” great plan Spencer, no need to spend time on planning, your assistant has made a superb presentation for you to present at the conference, you are going to read off of the slides, maybe throw in a few anecdotes possibly even stop the presentation early and have an engaging chat with the audience.
I hate to say it, but this approach doesn’t always go as badly as you would think! I have seen hundreds of presenters do this, but only the ones that speak for a living can get away with it. Statistically I would say this approach is more common in males, often of a senior position and they often arrive 5 minutes before they are supposed to go live, they click
through the presentation, reading off the slides, every so often it’s just a picture slide and they say “here’s a picture of a baby” or “here is a picture of a boat sinking” then click to the next slide and they answer a few questions at the end. Great.
Presenters that do this, are wasting yours and their own time, it’s no reflection on what they know, they have been asked to speak because they do in fact know what they are reading, but never in the history of presentations has someone reading off a PowerPoint engaged an audience. But they wouldn’t know because they are two busy reading to realize there are only two remaining awake audience members.
Apologies for the damning evaluation of the non-planner. As I mentioned, I have sometimes seen it work and it does often allow the presenter to have less anxiety around the planning and scripting and more time to relax or work on other things.
The best non planners tend to be the ones who present all the time, they have been gifted with a brain that when they see each slide pop up, they can make something up on the spot that is fully engaging and completely captivates the audience.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t had a occasions where I have been a non-planner, my excuse is usually around easing the anxiety I have related to planning something. However, what I found when I didn’t plan is I was engaging the audience, but I would miss some/most of the important content the audience needed to hear, to ensure you are being effective with your content you need to plan the delivery, at least somewhat.
The Plan Some Things
There are a number of ways in which “the plan somethings” go about their business, they will often have a minimal PowerPoint, a PowerPoint designers dream, or no PowerPoint at all! They often arrive 5 minutes before or they can sometimes turn up an hour before then disappear up until the moment they are supposed to go on stage, but the clearest thing I often see in these presenters is confidence. Why do they display such confidence? well it’s because they have a flexible plan.
Before I get ahead of myself and declare the “plan some things” are the best presenters, this approach doesn’t work for everyone and some topics are just too complex to deliver like this, but the majority of presenters who use this approach, nail it.
How do they do it? Well, there are different practical ways of doing it, I like to think of it as a mind map. The Presenter makes a mind map of all the key topics, with the main goal of the presentation in the middle. Then before presenting they go over each key topic perhaps memorizing key statistics and specific facts but the specific way they deliver is never rehearsed, never written down.
Compared to the “Planners” approach where they write “hi my name is …” the “Plan some things” have note cards that normally have the odd word; you’d be lucky if you got a sentence written on them.
When it comes to present, they tick off each key topic in their mind, moulding their delivery on what areas seem to be more or less engaging, the only way they can do this well, is because they know their topic like the back of their hand, they have complete flexibility and this tends to be reflected in their energy and engagement on stage.
The only risk of failure with this approach is if you don’t know enough about your topic to go into detail without pre planned notes and the topics can come across thin and without substance. Just like the “No planner” there is a risk of missing content, unless you are doing this presentation every week, chances of you nailing every point without scripting are slim. But it is still less “wooden” or over rehearsed than the planner.
So, what is the best approach? The intricacies of each presentation can play a big role in deciding the best approach. With practice, “The Plan Everything” can develop a fully detailed script that also adapts and can be moulded like the “The Plan Some things”. In turn, “The Plan Some things” can plan just enough that they have memorized a delivery that includes every detail needed without needing hundreds of notes. Then finally you have the Plan nothing, who has avoided all stress related to the presentation and can often get away with reading off a slide but also engaging the audience.
The approach is down to preference. If you haven’t got an abundance of experience in presenting presentations; I would always recommend planning as much as you can to a point where you know what you need to say, leaving yourself some margin for flexibility. That flexibility tends to grow the more experienced you get. If you can get away with it, avoid the not planning at all technique, If anything it comes across disrespectful to your audience. It goes without saying a lack of preparation leaves you open to mistakes, and the ability to be more “present” as I mentioned at the beginning, when making it up on the spot, is often lost because you are too focused on what you are actually speaking about.
Presenting your presentation, is not Theatre, but my 9 fingers worth of drama qualifications taught me, amongst other things; That even when improvising on the spot you are still needing to draw on research and planning, to bring substance to the improvised moment. Audience engagement is just as important as content so the aim is to find that balance.