2 Trends To Avoid When Presenting

At Ethos3, we spend a lot of time sharing presentation tips. Many times, we’re covering the latest trends that can take your presentation to the next level. We’re still doing that today, only with a slight twist. Instead of talking about things you should do, today we want to talk about two things you should avoid when it comes to your presentations.

Both of these trends have to do with the fast speed at which we communicate through many different types of media these days. As we adapt to new ways of communicating, we have to be aware of how these larger trends influence the world of presentations. So let’s look at how we can avoid two specific trends: sharing without confirming and broadcasting rather than conversing.

Trend 1: Sharing Without Confirming

In the modern age of media, memes, quotes, and opinions get passed along at lightning speed. Which has both a positive and a negative side. The ability to get great ideas out to the masses quickly is amazing. The strength of social media to help organize crisis response is powerful. There are great things about modern communication. But it’s not all great. We have to use critical thinking skills when processing the information we encounter online. And we have to thoughtfully decide whether or not to include that information in our presentations.

In their recent article “By Any Memes Necessary: A Case for Critical Media Literacy,” Maytha Alhassen and Zaheer Ali explore the case of a mysterious quote widely attributed to Malcom X. The quote goes something like this: “When ‘I’ is replaced with ‘we,’ illness becomes wellness.” The quote has been shared to tens of thousands of Instagram users as well as quoted by CNN host Chris Cuomo. But to this day, experts can’t find any legitimate record of Malcom X ever writing or speaking those exact words. And yet it continues to be circulated and attributed to him.

The authors go on to ask, “How will we tell the story of this moment when so many untruths are floating around online? . . . In the CNN piece cited above, Cuomo vigorously insists that his wife checked and re-checked Malcolm’s authorship of the line. But what does that even mean? Did she make sure it was more broadly shared on Instagram or that trustworthy people tweeted it? Is that how we determine the veracity of a quotation now — not by citing a reliable source but simply by pointing to its cultural ubiquity?”

Just because we see a quote or a statistic or an opinion widely shared doesn’t mean it is, in fact, accurate. I’ve come across this problem in my years as a content writer. I’ll find a powerful quote or statistic. And I know that it would make a great addition to my blog. But I can’t find the original source. I can spend hours hopping around on the internet, tracing links and vague citations, but I never land anywhere solid. It’s a tangled web of citations floating around, but it never leads back to anything verifiable. And that’s the conundrum. We begin to think, well if lots of people shared it, it must be legit. So it feels safe in sharing it, too.

The volume and the speed at which we are able to share things has established a trend in which the quantity of citations is substituted for the quality of citations. Friends, this is a dangerous practice, one that we, as speakers, need to resist the urge to participate in. As presenters today, we have to trace even the most popularized information back to original and verifiable sources. And if we can’t, we have to be willing to let go of even the best quotes or stats in favor of truth and accuracy. When we present, we have to be willing to preserve and form an accurate historical record, even as it’s being written.

Trend 2: Broadcasting Rather than Conversing

Another disturbing trend is the move away from actual conversation. Listening expert Julian Treasure puts it this way in his TED Talk, “5 Ways to Listen Better.” He says, “We’re becoming impatient. We don’t want oratory anymore; we want sound bites. And the art of conversation is being replaced—dangerously, I think—by personal broadcasting.” This is a direct result of being able to share our opinions 24/7. I mean, there’s a reason we call them social media platforms. We might just as well call them social media soapboxes given the way many people use them these days.

In their book They Say, I Say, Gerald Graff and Cathy Birkenstein write, “communicating online tends to undermine true conversation because writers can too easily dismiss or ignore other points of view, and thus are more likely to engage in egotistical monologues in which they use what others say as a pretext for expounding their own already established opinions.” In other words, we often jump into social media debates to express what we already know, to put in our two cents, rather than to really listen, exchange ideas, or make any thoughtful progress.

The authors say they see an increasing trend in comments on articles that begin with something along the lines of “I haven’t read the article, but in my opinion…” People are hungry to be heard. Which reminds me that this trend is especially dangerous for presenters. Here’s why. Like online venues, we have a ready-made and built-in audience and platform when we stand up to present. But how do we accommodate that when a one-sided presentation isn’t structured the way a two-sided conversation is?

We return to our roots. Specifically, to audience analysis. We think of our audience first and foremost. We ask questions like:

  • What do they already know?
  • What do they want to hear?
  • How can I learn more about them so that I reach them better with my presentation?
  • What is important to my audience?
  • What might they say or ask following my presentation if given a chance?
  • How could their perspectives differ from mine?

Every time we shift our communication and presentation focus from ourselves to our audiences, we fight the trend toward “personal broadcasting” and “egotistical monologues.” For more information on how to engage in more effective and reciprocal communication, check out our recent post called “Parlors & Presentations: Lessons from Kenneth Burke.”

The Solutions

The solutions to these two problems are pretty simple and pretty clear. First, we have to resist the urge to share things that we can’t confirm no matter how much it might add to our message. If you don’t have to time to confirm it, don’t become part of the problem by passing it along. If you can’t find a primary source, don’t put it in your presentation. We can’t succumb to lazy content work or research. Not now. Not ever.

Second, we have to remember that all communication, presentations included, needs to tend toward conversation rather than broadcasting. When we focus only on what we want to say, we forget the importance of other perspectives. And we risk creating presentations that are self-aggrandizing rather than helpful or informative.

Now that we’ve discussed some trends to avoid, are you ready to discuss some ideas on how to take your presentation to the next level? We’re here to help.

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