3 Presentation Tips to Help You To Stop ‘Waffling’


man looking board

The internet is full of presentation tips focused on helping professionals to get rid of bad habits. Many of them overlook one of the most damaging, ‘waffling’.

Reading slides, reciting bullet points, fidgeting and incessant ‘umming’ and ‘erring’ are amongst the most common. One of the biggest offenders is the menace known as, ‘waffling’.

‘Waffling’ in a presentation is speaking excessively or repeatedly about something trivial. It’s insignificant because it doesnt add any value at all to your overall message.

Sound familiar?

It’s a rather unpleasant experience if you”ve ever been on the receiving end of it. It can be just as painful for the speaker who is aware they suffer from the affliction but doesn’t know how to fix it.

If it’s a personal torment of yours then here’s what we suggest you do to speak with clarity and purpose

1. Start with the end in mind

A great number of presenters begin with the question, ‘What am I going to say?

That’s always the wrong first question!

A far more effective starting point is to ask yourself, ‘ Why am I speaking and what result do I and my audience really want from this presentation?’ 

What exactly is it you are trying to influence or change? Is it your audience’s:

– Mindset /perspective

– Understanding/clarity

– Belief/opinion

– Behaviour/decision

What do you really want your audience to do when you’ve finished speaking

Approve my budget for the new project

– Sign off my proposal

– Buy my product/service

– Recommend me to their clients

– Request more information about the initiative

– Ask for a proposal

Unless you are absolutely clear on exactly what it is you are trying to achieve and why it’s so important, you will probably ‘waffle’.

Once you have full clarity, ensure that everything you include in your presentation is relevant to and supports that purpose. If it’s superfluous, you will ‘waffle’.

2. Craft it, don’t just build it

Many presenters start by opening their laptop to build their presentation. I use the term ‘build’ because often this includes the use of slides and templates which presenters simply repopulate. Crafting your presentation as a journey or good conversation will reduce your likelihood of ‘waffling’. The reason for this is that you will know exactly where you are going and trying to take your audience to.

Long before you open your laptop, imagine this:

You’ve just walked into your place of work and before you’ve even taken your coat off your boss says:

‘Don’t bother taking your coat off, I’ve decided we are all going out for the day.’

After you’ve recovered from the shock, the likelihood is that the very next thing you will do is to ask her 3 questions:

– Where are we going?

– Why are we going there?

– How are we going to get there?

Think about the last presentation you delivered. Isn’t it likely that these were the 3 very first questions on your audiences mind?

That’s where the crafting begins. Once you have clear answers to these 3 questions, the following 6 steps will ensure you never waffle again.

– Open with impact

– Tell them your key message

– Make it clear why your message is not only relevant but important to them

– Tell them exactly how you can help them and give them examples

– Let them what you want them to do now

– Close with impact

3. Take a walk

I live adjacent to an aerodrome. It’s open to the public to cycle around, walk their dogs or, of course, simply meander.

Once I’ve crafted a presentation using the above sapproach, I walk around the aerodrome several times with my notes. I call it rehearsal time. It’s not rehearsal in the form of studying, memorising and repeatedly reading my notes, it’s different.

My plan is to walk and talk myself through my message. I internalise my message and the supporting key points. Doing this out loud, I get to  hear my own thoughts. This allows me to become more conscious of my inner ‘waffle’ and what is likely to be expressed verbally if I’m not mindful.

As you may imagine, I get a few strange stares from cyclists and the odd wink from a dog or two but I keep walking and talking.

A walk may not work for you. Perhaps you’d prefer to sit under a tree or or in your favourite chair. Try to find the time, space and environment that is right for you to help you to rehearse and focus on your message.

In our experience most people ‘waffle’ while presenting for one or more of the following reasons, it may be they:

– Aren’t completely clear on what their message is

– Haven’t prepared well enough

– Haven’t rehearsed in the right way

– Have made notes but they’re not focused enough

– Are just nervous

Forget to pause and breathe inbetween sentences

Have no idea they are doing it and the impact it has


If you need further help, try practicing the following:

– Record yourself presenting and listen carefully to the recording. Make a note of where you find yourself ‘waffling’. Record yourself again mindfully removing this. Repeat…

– Take a few paragraphs from your favourite book. Practice reading them out loud, slowly and pausing for two seconds after each full stop.

– Take a deep breath before you start speaking and remember to pause and breathe throughout your presentation after key points.

– Practice doing some vocal exercises before you start speaking. Watch the TED TALK, ‘How to speak so that people want to listen’.

– Stick to one point at a time and make sure it’s relevant and finished before moving on.

– Avoid unnecessary detail. If it doesnt support your message or your audience leave it out.

– If you are using visuals, share one idea per visual, no more.

– Regardless of the length of your presentation, practice delivering it in just 90 seconds. This will enhance your focus.

Following these tips will radically ensure you increase your chance of connecting with confidence, clarity and impact. You’ll also put the ‘waffling’ behind you for good.

Presenting aside, if you know someone who generally talks to much and you need some help dealing with them, you may find this article helpful: ‘5 Steps for Dealing With People Who Talk Too Much‘.

If you need help ensuring with your bad public speaking habits, including ‘waffling’:

– Book yourself onto a powerful public speaking course.

– Invest in some really good one to one public speaking coaching.

– Get yourself some excellent presentation training

Photo by Julien-Pier Belanger on Unsplash

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One comment
  • D'Anne Hotchkiss
    Posted on 27th January 2016 at 1:42 pm

    I love how you have explained the process. I have followed a similar one for years, but never have I tried to explain it to others the way you have. I will now. My version of your walk is talking, out loud, to myself while driving. And then thinking about what I heard myself say. That’s where the real presentation starts to develop.


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