Expert Panel

Common job issues and solutions in Workplace Communication Skills

Are your presentations boring?


{#/pub/images/TwoSurefireWaystoBringYourNextPresentationtoLife.jpg}For some reason, whenever we stand-up to make a presentation, many of us become our sternest selves. We’d be no more likely to break into a spontaneous smile than we would be to turn a quick pirouette. The same logic applies directly to the words being spoken from our unsmiling lips. Those words tend to be stripped-down minimal phrases. They are as focused as possible and as few as necessary, as we aim to deliver a professional business case. 


I’m not sure exactly where it is during the education process that we’re conditioned to behave this way, but it must be formally taught at some stage because almost everybody seems to have the same approach. 


Or could it just be good old-fashioned presentation terror? Possibly it’s our rush to get from one end of the presentation to the other, like an athlete trying to get down the track as quickly as possible. Perhaps in our rush, we forget to be ourselves, and that’s why there’s so many darned boring presentations out there.


Two Surefire Ways to Bring Your Next Presentation to Life

Here are two things I want you to try in your next presentation:


1. Smile occasionally. 

2. Consciously use at least one pre-planned metaphor or simile. 


The technique comes direct from poetry and will be a shot-in-the-arm for your descriptive powers. (Although obviously not literally a “sh0t-in-the-arm”. It’s a metaphor! Geddit??)


First of all, what’s the difference between a metaphor and a simile? Now before I go into this, let me warn you that there are a lot of language fanatics out there who’ll confuse you with a spider’s web (yet another metaphor!) of intricate definitions. After all, the technique has a literary foundation, so we shouldn’t be surprised that there are some scholarly definitions around. Here’s all you fundamentally need to know though: 


If I accuse you of being bird-brained then I’m using a metaphor. You don’t literally have the brain of a bird, but the metaphor allows me to seamlessly transfer the idea of a very small brained creature out of its natural context, and transpose it into another one: your cranium.


Alternately, if I were to say that you “eat like a bird”? then this is simile. Simile is a very close cousin of metaphor, and the only real difference is that simile uses the word “like” in order to make the transference even more direct.


In normal speech we use both these elements, yet when we attempt to consciously develop them for presentation purposes, inspiration make a dive for the doorway. Before it escapes though, try lassoing it back to you by taking a look out of the window!


There are few elements that bind us in quite the same way as the primordial elements of sun, storm, fire and ice. Weather and temperature are the launch pads for countless metaphors, similes, and descriptions. When groping for inspiration, take a good long look at what’s happening right now outside the window, and see if it summons a decent sized metaphor for your next presentation.

  • You can conjure fast and furious by mentioning storms, tempests, blizzards, and hurricanes

  • You can condemn something as lacking passion by describing it as damp, wet, or foggy

  • You can uplift by using phrases that are sunny, breezy, or bright

  • You can even repel and create distance through language that is cold, frozen, icy, or bitter


Here are some examples. Right at this exact moment I’m looking out of my window at a deep frozen New England scene that involves around four inches of snow. How could I apply this to my presentation?


I could maybe refer to the problem of how a business process is “frozen”, or “buried”. I could indicate how something needs to be “thawed out”. I could use a simile, such as “....it’s like being stuck in a snow-drift.”


I could describe how we need to snow-plough our way through an issue. I could say that something is as treacherous as a frozen path. 


Most of these metaphors are of a negative, challenging nature, and that most likely reflects my own inner feelings about the four inches of deep frozen white-stuff that’s been out there since Thanksgiving! What happens though if I cast my eyes upward at the clear blue sky above me? What metaphors would a little blue-sky thinking bring to mind? Upbeat ones. Positive ones. 


Sure, weather based metaphors are sometimes a little over-used, but they are only over-used because they are universal, because they are easy, and because they work!


To lift your presentation phrasings from the mundane to the memorable, take a look at your surroundings and see what aspects can be transferred into your speech via metaphor or simile.


You'll find that while genuine lightning might only strike once in the same spot, the metaphoric inspiration of a lightning bolt can strike again and again.



{#/pub/images/PeterWatts.jpg}Written by Peter Watts, writer, coach, and trainer guiding presenters to be at their best when on the stage. Following a 15 year career within the technology sector that included 11 years working for Dell, Peter became a consultant specializing in training and coaching business presenters. Today he works with teams around America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to help multinational organizations to bring their message to their customers through the spoken word.Peter is based in the UK. In addition to training under his own Speak2All brand and as an Associate Trainer, he also writes a weekly blog of ideas for presenters, and can be followed daily on Twitter.



Do you have a question for Peter?  Please visit our Workplace Communication Skills Community, he will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


Did you find this story informative?  We would like the opportunity to keep you up to date on all of our training articles.  Please register for our newsletter so we can do just that.  


Here are some related articles you may be interested in: 

Presentation Nerves & Solutions To Overcome Them

Does My But Sound Big In This?

7 Steps To Beating Pesentation Procrastination

Eleven Really Useful Techniques for Successful Presentations

A Model for Active Listening: Master a Skill That Can Boost Your Career

Overcome Complacency in the Workplace

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace: How to Develop Yourself & Your Team


About ManagingAmericans.com

Organizational Strategy & Teambuilding Tools for Business Leaders & Managers- helping leaders achieve profitable results w/ fewer resources & happier employees. Our well-rounded business content is designed for leaders & managers to implement change with ease & improve accountability amongst their teams. 




Do you emphasize your own opinions when you give presentations at work?