5 Phrases That Will Undermine Your Credibility in a Presentation
By Michael Shehane and Anne Ricketts
When I moved to San Francisco, I wanted to celebrate my new life. And that meant finding a new boyfriend. The local’s spot, Dolores Park, was made for young professionals to innocently flirt. I sat on my beach towel every Sunday, casually reading The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, hoping to attract the right guy. Yet nobody approached me.
I griped to a friend, “It’s all eye candy and no follow through!”
My friend said, “I hate to tell you this but if you are going to sit with your arms crossed all day long, you’re signaling to the guys that you closed off and not interested in dating. Your body language is telling them and you that you are not ready for love.”
Fast forward a decade, I have a boyfriend, and now I am coaching professionals across the United States on how to present themselves in front of their teams and audiences of over a 1,000. Not only do they give audiences mixed signals with their bodies, i.e. crossed arms, hands in pockets, head down, but they also give mixed signals by uttering disclaimers at the beginning, middle, and end of their presentations.
Disclaimers are short phrases that might comfort you as the speaker, but certainly don’t work to comfort your audience. What they do is undermine your credibility. They communicate to your audience that you are nervous or not ready to fully embrace the opportunities that might come with delivering a powerful and meaningful message in a presentation.
Here are five common disclaimers to avoid when you present:
1. “Sorry, I’m really nervous.”
Stepping in front of an audience can shoot a huge dose of adrenaline into your body. Our faces become hot, our hearts start to beat faster, and palms sweat. Even though we might be tempted to admit this, I recommend refraining. Are you saying this for yourself or for your audience? What are we supposed to do with this information?
You don’t want to start off a presentation asking your audience to empathize with your anxiety. Realize that you are saying this for yourself to lower the bar of your performance. Plus, what you are doing is actually calling their attention to your nerves that they might not have noticed otherwise. While you might not feel comfortable, you can appear confident. The audience doesn’t know what they don’t know.
Instead, tell a friend or loved one before the presentation, and leave it at that.
2. “I know happy hour is next, so I will hurry through this.”
If you go to conferences, you’re likely to hear this disclaimer towards the end of the day. While saying this phrase might reinforce that you are aware of your audience’s perceptions, you also might have just given the audience an excuse to disconnect from you and your presentation.
Most likely, the audience is saying to themselves, if you need to hurry through it, then maybe it’s not worth my time to listen. Or, even worse, if you don’t think you are worth my time, then why should I think you are worth my time? Also, you encouraged them to start dreaming of wine and beer instead of your content.
Instead try, “What a great day of presentations. I’m excited to cap the day off by talking about x.”
3. “There is a lot on this slide, so bear with me.”
Out of all the disclaimers, this one is the worst. No, I don’t have to bear with you.
Your job as the presenter is to figure out a way to break down information into sequenced, sizable chunks. Who wants to go to a restaurant and have the appetizers, all three courses, and the dessert plopped down in front of them at the same time? Don’t make me work to understand the data on the slide nor the point of the slide. That’s your job!
If you are “given” a slide to present that you feel is hard to read (and it’s truly out of your control to change the slide deck), help your audience by calling their attention to the most important element on the slide. Highlight that element visually, point to it with your hand, and say, “What I want you to focus on here is x.”
4. “Sorry, I just put this together.”
This may be true, but the audience doesn’t need to know what they don’t need to know. It would be like going on a first date and saying, “I’m not really ready to date because I’m not over my ex.” Likewise, saying “Sorry, I just put this together” signals to the audience that the presentation is likely to be a disaster. Respect your audience.
Instead try, “I’m excited to show you the first iteration of the project. Looking forward to your thoughts and feedback so we can continue to refine.”
5. “If you don’t listen to anything else, remember x.”
This disclaimer sounds innocent enough (you are trying to highlight what’s important), but the audience can also interpret this as, everything else I am saying is not important, so feel free to tune me out. Don’t encourage your audience to disregard the majority of the content that you are asking them to spend their precious time listening to.
Have confidence that you make sense, and that what you’re saying matters. Instead say, “The key take-away that I want you to walk away with is x.”
Imagine your presentation without disclaimers. How would it sound? Are you truly ready to own the room? Or, like a young me in Dolores Park looking for a date, are you telling yourself that you want to succeed, but your subconscious actions are holding you back?
I recommend asking a colleague to listen to you present and count the number of disclaimers you state in a presentation to comfort yourself. Once you become aware of your disclaimers, it’s easier to put an end to them. Step out from behind your disclaimers and shine.