How not to bore your audience

The Minister speakslistening to boring speaker

I was looking forward to seeing how the professional speaker would address the audience.

He was a UK Government Minister and the keynote speaker at the conference. I was in the audience for the opening session because I would later be presenting a workshop at the conference.

My heart sank when he stood up holding his sheaf of notes.

Over 45 long and exceedingly boring minutes later he stopped. I had long since given up attempting to follow what, if anything, he was saying. Instead I was studying the various strategies that members of audience were using to stay awake.

Fortunately I was over to one side of the room so I had a good view to do this. Unfortunately I was at the opposite side of the room to the doors so couldn’t quietly escape - something which I noticed quite a few people doing.

Professional speaking or rambling

It never fails to amaze me how many people, including senior business executives, are unable to present their ideas succinctly, attractively, and professionally. It often seems that the more senior their role the more they spurn professional speaking skills and, like the Government Minister, will inflict boring, befuddled and patronising rambles on their trapped audience.

With this in mind last week’s Pegasus NLP Twitter Tips series offered 5 ways of making presentations more pithy, more to the point, and more engaging (we no longer publish Twitter Tips, btw):

1. Grab their attention instantly

Pegasus NLP Tip: Making presentations: Gain rapport & get attention in first 30 secs with a story, fact, joke(??), cliff-hanger, surprise

It used to be said that adult attention span was around 20 minutes. I don’t know if this is still true or if it was ever so but I don’t think it applies today. With their agreement I have done tests in our NLP groups and most people have an attention span of between 1-4 minutes when being talked at – after this they have to struggle to keep their mind from rambling.

This is why, in our own presentation skills trainings, we emphasise that the first 30-45 seconds are your most important. So prepare your opener very, very thoroughly. Things that work and are reasonably safe include a story or unexpected fact. Jokes, stories which you start but don't finish, and surprise openers can work – but they are can be risky and they can backfire.

2. Manage your ‘nerves’

To deal with ‘nerves’ speak slightly slower, more deliberately. Use confident pauses to gain thinking time.

Even experienced and highly competent speakers get nerves. Accept this. It's not only natural and it also quite useful. Nerves produce adrenaline which keeps us on our toes – just make sure it doesn't bring you to your knees by having a few tips and tricks for managing pre-session nervousness.

Nervous speakers tend to babble; they speak too fast and without pausing. This isn't good for the audience – they don't have thinking time. And it isn't good for the speaker because they don't allow themselves thinking time. This ‘thinking time’ is very important when you're in front of a group – it’s the opposite to babbling.

Speak slightly slower than is normal for you to override the tendency to babble. Have brief ‘thinking pauses’ between sentences or ideas. This allows you moments to think about what you're going to say next, to look at your audience and convey to them you're fully at ease, and it gives your listeners the opportunity of digesting what you have just said. Be sure to vary your rate of speech and your volume to balance this - there is a fine line between being deliberate and being boring.

3. Be careful with PowerPoint!

Use PowerPoint as a visual 'aid' - not a place to hide. Anyone can prep a slideshow. But that’s not presenting.

I have known managers and team leaders who, because of nervousness about speaking in public, would spend weeks preparing their speech – or, more accurately, preparing their PowerPoint slides.

They would then stand to one side giving centre stage to the screen… read out to their audience what's written on the slides! As if their audience couldn't read themselves. Actually, in the circumstances the audience can't read because the speaker is talking while they are trying to read the slides! It's nerve wracking for the speaker, it's both patronising and boring for the audience, and it's missing the point.

PowerPoint is supposed to be a ‘visual aid’. To provide something which enhances the presentation – not replaces it. However nervous, unprofessional speakers make the slideshow a hiding place. Some will even turn down the lights so they can't be seen...

In its place PowerPoint is fine. But remember that you are the most important visual aid. People are assessing you, your style, your confidence, your eye contact, your professionalism etc. If you do not convince them that you are worth listening to then the most wonderfully and professionally produced slideshow in the world won't cut the muster.

 4. KISS: Keep it short, straightforward, simple

K.I.S.S. Better to have their full attention for up to 15 minutes than spend a further 45 minutes losing it

I'm amazed at the number of speakers who, like the Minister, demonstrate no respect for their audience. A professional speaker who respects her audience will take the time to ensure that her message encapsulates the essence of the subject, is illustrated by carefully selected stories and examples, and is delivered in a bright and engaging manner – and in as short a time as is absolutely possible.

Such speakers recognise that the audience is made up of busy people with lots of demands on their time.

One of my favourite anecdotes comes from the former politician and businessman Lord Brabazon of Tara ‘if you cannot say what you have to say in twenty minutes, you should go away and write a book about it.’

 5. The Pegasus NLP 1-3-1 Model

Little prep time? Use our 1-3-1 Model. Group material into 3 chunks. Add your intro & call-to-action. Done!

This is one of the first models we introduce in our NLP courses dealing with presentation skills and public speaking.

Like all good models it is ridiculously simple – because simple truly is powerful.

  • Start with the ‘3’ – pick your 3 most important points, refine each to its essence, and illustrate each with an examples or story
  • Next the first ‘1’ - your opener. Make this something that will grab their attention and be relevant to the three key points
  • Finally create your close – the other ‘1’. This is your call to action. If you don't ask your audience to do something what's the point in making your presentation? So be clear what you want them to do (e.g. change their behaviour or change their thinking) and then design a call to action that links this with your three key points.

This Pegasus NLP 1-3-1 Model is simple but powerful and it enables you to quickly and efficiently design a presentation even as quite short notice. On some of our courses, to demonstrate how effective it is, we challenge participants to use it to prepare a presentation in 10 minutes and then deliver this.  (You can read about our Presenting with Influence workshop here).

And finally

When you stand in front of an audience and make a presentation you are asking people to give you their time and attention. They are doing you a favour by being there – not the other way around. And you are being judged – because before people will 'buy' your ideas, products, or services they must first ‘buy’ you.

Accept that public speaking nerves are natural – and use them to your advantage by preparing your material along the lines suggested here. If you truly know your material you can then focus on relating with your audience – rather than on yourself. And you replace self consciousness with ‘other consciousness’.


  1. Margaret Johnson on 23rd February 2012 at 6:15 PM

    Well it seems you have discovered the secret of British politics Reg. Talk them into a stupor and hope they won’t notice what you are doing while the majority are asleep.

    Along with three other members of the Friends of the Botanical Gardens Sheffield I was asked to talk to an audience of about fifty last year. This annual event, the subject being My Favourite Plants, is undertaken by unwitting victims who don’t know when it is time to avoid the current Chairman and Events Organiser.

    I followed three other speakers on a hot sticky day, not the best opportunity for showing off my plant care skills. Showbiz is what its all about folks Razzle Dazzle em.Grab attention. I did this by producing from a box the Orchids that produced Oohs and Aaahhhs from the audience, listed the range of countries they grow naturally in, their care needs were briefly described, This took us to about ten minutes, time to gee things up.

    Make em Laugh, producing two sorry looking victims of wrong treatment stating “here’s one we killed earlier” to hoots of laughter and explaining why they were due to be dispatched to the compost heap, as the laughter died away.

    The notes on index cards, in case I dried up or became demented, did their job of confidence prop to the essential business of knowing what you are talking about. Which brings me back to you Reg. I am sure that you used your quiet humour and were, unlike the minister of incompetence, very well versed in the subject you undertook to lead the workshop in.

  2. Reg on 24th February 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Hi Margaret

    Like you say, having the crib cards is a confidence prop – I use them too, no matter how well I’ve prepared or know my stuff – knowing they’re there is the ‘security blanket’

    At the conference and after a very rushed coffee break, because things were running late by this stage, we went pretty well straight into workshops. Following the boredom of the opening session they were ready to get up and moving and interacting with one another. But the late running had lost me nearly half of my allocated time…


  3. Margaret Johnson on 26th February 2012 at 5:21 PM

    So when you have a well honed workshop planned with only half your planned running time how do you pare away something without defeating the object of the exercise. I can only think that participants must be sent away with quite a lot of homework to do.

  4. Reg on 26th February 2012 at 5:36 PM

    In view of the time left (about 50 minutes) and the physical/emotional state of the audience I opted to emphasise the Relationship end of the Task-Relationship continuum – and aimed for an enjoyable experience rather than a profound and enjoyable one. It was a useful lesson for me.

  5. Tanya on 14th March 2012 at 8:06 AM

    Reg – where can I find details of your “Presentation” courses? I can only find details of your NLP courses on the Pegagus site?

    Thanks in advanace

  6. Reg on 14th March 2012 at 8:02 PM

    Hi Tanya

    We are planning a Presentation Skills 2-day programme for June

    Details will be available on the web once details have been finalised:

    Or you could email debbie(at)pegasusnlp,com and she will let you have details once these are finalised