5 Easy Ways to Discombobulate a Presenter

Definition: verb (used with object), discombobulated, discombobulating.

[dis-kuh m-bob-yuh-leyt]

- To confuse or disconcert; upset; frustrate: feeling disconnected or unbalanced.

E.g., The speaker was completely discombobulated by the hecklers.

The purpose of this article is to ensure that people responsible for organizing presentations are made aware of some of the problems that can be caused by a lack of psychological training in this area, and its application in the real world, so that they can take appropriate action to ensure that the presentations they are responsible for are successful.

In previous articles, I have talked about how everyone involved in a communicative event, be it a presentation, training course, meeting, etc., arrives with preconceived ideas and expectations about what will happen, the location, the type of interaction, the people, unspoken norms of behaviour (both verbal & non-verbal) and many other elements. All these are based on their previous experience, knowledge, education, culture, etc. When these expectations are not reached – especially in a presentation context, it can seriously affect the clarity of the communication and the perception of the presenter and their message.

This was brought home to me last week when I attended a series of three presentations in the headquarters of a major telecommunications organization in Spain. The speakers were worldwide Subject Matter Experts in their areas of specialization. I must declare that I am a friend of one of the presenters in this event.

The main discombobulators in this event were:

(1) Room set-up.

- The initial site chosen for the presentations was a “standard format” room: The presenter at the front of the room and the audience in front of them. There was a full range of audiovisual support available and was what I believe to be a typical presentation set up. This is the “traditional” type of room where many presenters have accumulated much of their experience and generally tend to expect this type of venue.

In the case used as an example in this article, the room was perceived as being too small for the expected audience. So, at the last minute it was decided to change the presentation site to a different room which was an unusual design.

To give you an idea of the room set-up The screen was in the centre of the room with a wing on either side which restricted the vision of the presenter to the audience immediately in front of them, unless they moved so far forward that they were almost among the front row of the audience.

(2) No computer in front of the Presenter, only behind them.

The computer which the presenters were to use was on a lectern at the back of the stage which, had it been used, would have made it impossible for the presenters use orientation, proximity, gaze and other non verbal elements to enhance their communicative competence with the audience. All three presenters decided NOT to use it and as a result they were continually looking at the screen to see what was being shown and not focussing on the audience and reading their non-verbal communication.

There are three possible options to resolve this problem:

1. Have a monitor on the floor in front of the presenter so that they can see the screen easily.

2. Have a monitor suspended from the ceiling for the same reason as in #1.

3. Have a laptop computer on a table placed where the presenter wants it NOT where it is most convenient for the organization. This is the easiest, low-cost option!

(3) Focus on the screen and NOT on the Presenter.

The attitude of the organizers appeared to be that it is the screen that is the be-all-and-end-all of the presentation and that the presenter was a mere adjunct to the material instead of the other way around. This attitude was reinforced by the fact that there were two large screen monitor directed towards the audience located on each wing of the room.

It is the presenter and their verbal & non verbal communication that are the most important parts of the presentation. The content on the screen are known as “Visual Aids” – The word “Aid” should not be confused with “substitute”!

It might be more productive to have the presenter on the monitors instead of their slides!

(4) Wifi / Cloud storage / problems.

There were problems with the wifi system. It appeared that one or more of the presenters had intended to use a presentation located in the “cloud” – However, in the first presentation, the problems were sufficiently serious to interrupt the flow of the presentation and discombobulate the presenter. Based on this experience, it is worth reminding everyone that it is better to take your presentation with you in a pen drive rather than trust that you will have the ability to access it in the cloud.

(5) Timing, Seating & Problem solutions.

The session was scheduled to run from 17:00h to 21:00h. Normally, one would expect a break after each presentation or half-way through so that both the audience and the presenters can relax somewhat, stretch their legs and psychologically process the content / messages communicated during the presentation which generally leads to greater retention of the content. A short break also allows the following presenters to find solutions to the problems they have identified during the previous presentation(s).

As an aside and on a personal note, the seats were also uncomfortable, especially for four hours!

Consequences:

1. The first presenter was walking up and down the width of the auditorium like a caged lion; frequently turning to see what was on the screen, turning their back on one side of the audience and then on the other. In general, their non-verbal communication (gaze, orientation and posture) were not a true reflection of their skills.They appeared to be producing extremely high levels of adrenalin, testosterone which results in lower levels of cortisol due to the stress caused in this environment.

2. The second and third presenters were more anchored in their preferred presentation point which meant that the audience were more focussed on them so that the content of their communication (visual, verbal and non-verbal) entered into their subconscious mind via their peripheral vision. However, it appeared that both presenters were discombobulated by the environment. This resulted in the audience members seated on both sides had greater problems seeing the presenters.

It must be stated that ALL of the Presenter did an excellent job bearing in mind the unexpected and unnecessary problems encountered in the presentation site. I am sure that in a “normal” presentation site where the organizers are aware of, and have taken steps to ensure the correct application of, the psychological elements related to presentations, the presentations would have been much better.

There are many other elements that can discombobulate presenters, trainers, meeting leaders, facilitators, etc., for additional information, please feel free to contact me.

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The author has been in love with languages and communication since the age of 11. He has spent most of an interesting and colourful life being involved with languages: learning, teaching, research and Investigation, and then extending his knowledge into other areas such as Kinesics, psycholinguistics, sociolinguistics, adult education, ericksonian hypnosis, Neuro Linguistic Programming and a range of other areas. Most of his clients are in the Healthcare, Information systems, Grand consumption, travel & transport, Food, drink and Hostelry industries and also politics.