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First Impressions — Primacy Effect

BY MARK W. HARDWICK, PhD.

Connecting the Message and Delivery Style

So you write a great presentation and design state-of-the-art visual aids. Then, you stand up in front of the audience and lose them in first few minutes because of out of sync behavior; for example say one thing and sound another way or other nervous habits. Worst of all, you do most these unconsciously. Below are some common delivery errors we have observed and some corrective solutions.

Fillers: "ah", "um", and "and"

These words are fillers. They distract from a presentation's content and diminish authority as a speaker. They also make you seem unprepared. In general, they are used when a pause is needed. Try replacing filler words with nothing — just a natural silence.

Annoying gestures and movements

  • Apologizing for being nervous
  • Saying that you are presenting something new.
  • The “critical parent” index finger pointing 
  • Licking and/or biting your lips
  • Constantly adjusting your glasses
  • Popping the top of a pen
  • Playing with facial hair (men)
  • Playing with/twirling your hair (women)
  • Jingling change in your pocket
  • Leaning against anything for support

Again, these actions can be replaced with something meaningful. If you find yourself nervous — and clicking the top of your pen, move to another location, if possible. Take the sting out of the nervousness by walking towards the audience, for example.

The only thing worse than using no gestures are using too many gestures. This is not a problem for many people — but if it is for you, try maintaining good eye contact with different audience members. Don’t stare but complete one thought to one person and move on. It is very difficult to gesture wildly while looking at someone.

Miss Match in Clothing

Loud clothes speak volumes. Unfortunately, they speak over you. Whatever your personal style, tone down your dress a notch or two for your next presentation.

Turning your back

Don't talk to the projector screen, whiteboard, or flipchart. If you need to refer to a visual, do so with a 45-degree angle. Another technique is walk toward the screen turn, touch, think of what you want to say and turn back to the audience and talk.