Handle 3 Major Presentation Distractions Like a Pro!

Presentations do not always go as planned – even if you are part of the famous Jonas brothers. The brothers were touted as one of the hottest acts at this year’s Grammys and they did go viral! But not for their flashy performance or nomination as best pop duo / group. Instead, it was a piece of spinach lodged in Nick Jonas’ teeth that lit up social media. Jonas laughed it off and made fun of himself on Twitter. Presentation distractions happen every day and seasoned presenters know how to handle them!

You may recall that something similar happened a couple of years ago to US Congressman, Joe Kennedy III. Kennedy was giving a high-profile speech when a worldwide audience became mesmerized by slimy drool oozing from his mouth. Kennedy blamed it on an abundance of Chapstick he applied prior to his speech. Things happen in the real world when you give presentations. If you aspire to hone your presenting skills, you need some proven presentation strategies to deal with oozing Chapstick, spinach in the teeth and other unplanned distractions. 

Congressman Joe Kennedy III went viral when he oozed slime during a high-profile speech covered by major new media.

Presentation Distraction # 1 – Environmental Factors

This refers to any environmental element that distracts from the speaker or presentation. These are obviously unplanned – most of the time. Nick Jonas’ lodged spinach and Congressman Kennedy’s drool would both fit into this category. A simple mirror is often the remedy. Our teams deliver speeches and workshops all the time. Most of our presenters keep a small mirror close by to check their appearance, especially after consuming snacks during breaks.

Other types of environmental distractions include things such as: uncomfortable temperatures, technical issues, unplanned noises or interruptions. Once we were speaking at a paper industry conference at a major hotel in Atlanta. Hundreds of people were packed into the ballroom and we had just taken the stage to speak. Suddenly, there was a huge crash at the back of the room. As presentation consultants we knew to quickly incorporate the distraction by acknowledging the disturbance. We also threw in some humor for good measure. 

“Seasoned presenters know to quickly incorporate the distraction.”

I recall a similar story of a missionary who was speaking at a church in Houston. She was back from Africa and updating church members on their mission efforts when a baby in the congregation started wailing. The missionary quickly incorporated the distraction. She also reframed the baby’s cries by saying, “I always feel joy when I hear a baby cry. I recall my first visit to an African children’s hospital, and it was deathly quiet. The guide explained the children were too sick to cry. So, I rejoice when I hear a baby cry!” It was a powerful moment in her presentation. By incorporating the distraction, she directed the audience’s attention and then got right back on track with the planned part of her presentation.

Presentation Distraction # 2 – Speaker Mannerisms

Many presentation distractions can be avoided with the right awareness and practice. Have you ever attended a presentation where the speaker’s mannerisms were so distracting that you could not hear their message? Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke’s gestures went viral many times when he was campaigning for office. His speeches were laced with lots of frenetic gestures that became the talk of social media, comedy shows and news reports. Elizabeth Warren is another politician who suffers from flying hands that often distract from her messages.

Former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke was parodied by comedians and others for his wild gestures.

Gestures are the telltale sign of a seasoned speaker or presenter. It is how gestures are used that make the difference. Some of the most successful TED Talk presenters do use many hand gestures. But their gestures have purpose and add to their stories and presentation messages. The best TED Talk speakers use gestures to make boring data understandable and even compelling. They have mastered the art of nonverbal engagement! 

Voice tones and energy levels can also be distracting. Some people suffer from monotone voices. At the other end of the spectrum, you hear presenters who are off the charts with wild energy and crazy tones; they sound as if they are introducing an MMA fighting event. The rule of thumb is that your voice tone and energy level should match the audience, occasion and time of day. 

“A rule of thumb is your voice tone and energy levels should match the audience, occasion and time of day.”

Filler words are also distractors. Many leaders who seek presentation coaching are aware of their overuse of filler words such as ah, um, you know or like. You hear some filler words at the start of sentences such as clearly or I think, or you know. Others may end sentences with filler words like, right? The cure for filler words follows this pattern: first, you must become aware of and hear your filler words; second, you must embrace pausing and learn that silence is a good thing!

There are other speaker mannerisms that distract from their message: too much movement (energizer bunny), not enough movement (wooden statute), a nervous tick such as rolling of the shoulders or head, tapping a pen, holding your hands together in front of you, etc. The key is to be videotaped or get a presentation coach to help you fine-tune your mannerisms. By limiting distracting mannerisms, you can direct your audience’s attention to your core messages.

Presentation Distraction # 3 – Bad Visuals

Boring or confusing visuals are also major distractors. The human brain is wired for visuals so it is amazing how many presenters still load PowerPoint with text or text-laden graphics. One study shows that 41% of people would rather endure the pain of a trip to the dentist than sit through a PowerPoint presentation! Each day 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created around the globe, and most of them are truly bad. It is important for your presentations to include attractive visuals. Visuals are the key to making your messages come alive so you can influence and motivate people.

“Each day 30 million PowerPoint presentations are created around the globe, and most of them are truly bad!”

PowerPoint gets a bad rap! It is a great visual tool when used correctly. When you take the time to tap PowerPoint’s full power, you can become a presentation rock star! But most people we coach admit they are complacent when it comes to using PowerPoint. They use the same, predictable PowerPoint templates over and over. They put way too much text on the slides. It’s like dumping cold water on your audience. Bad PowerPoint forces your audience into a state of “split attention”! It makes them turn to their cell phones, doodling and other things to survive. The result is they half hear your messages. 

You should think of your presentation as a gift to your audience. Your slide templates and presentation formats should be fresh and alive. You do not buy a gift for a good friend and just hand it to them. No! You take the effort to buy some tissue paper and a gift bag to make it special. Presentation visuals and packaging matters! Otherwise, your visuals will distract from your message.

A presentation is a gift you give your audience – when you package it with the right visuals.

Honing Your Presentation Skills

Presentations do not always go as planned – even if you are part of the famous Jonas brothers. Distractions happen and even go viral. If you aspire to hone your skills to be a better presenter, implement strategies to limit presentation distractions and have a game plan to handle them when they arise!

Benchmark Communications provides presentation, storytelling, leadership and communication strategies to help leaders and teams reach their full potential with effective communication and soft skills. If you would like to subscribe to our blog, contact us today or see the Subscribe Button on this page.