Quick Tip: Avoid “Absent-minded” Presentations

Let me give you one simple rule that will make your presentations more engaging and more persuasive at the same time.

Most public speakers are very “absent-minded.” I don’t mean that typical presenters are “absentminded,” in the sense that they forget things.  I mean that most speakers talk about people who are “absent.” They use words that put people’s minds on groups and individuals that aren’t in the room.

“Absent” Mindedness

people-220284_640That last paragraph was very “absent-minded.”

Just look at the subjects in each sentence. In order, I used these words: Most public speakers, typical presenters, they, most speakers, people, they, groups, individuals, etc.

Who are these so-called “people?”
Who is this nefarious group of “they?”
Can you look into the audience and point at “most speakers?”

Without even thinking about it, “most people” fall into this trap of talking about “people” who are absent. None of the “groups” on that list are present in the room.

When you talk about groups and individuals that are not present, it’s very abstract, and that makes it easier for the listener to miss the relevance of what you are saying. Often when you speak “absent” mindedly, the listener just tunes you out completely.

“Present” Mindedness

Here’s how you can take your public speaking skills up a notch. Let’s rewrite the opening example, from a “present-minded” perspective.

In other words, instead of talking about hypothetical people and individuals who are not “present,” let’s refer only to people that are “present” in the room.

In this case, you are reading a blog. Only two people are present “in the room,” ME, because they are MY words in your room, and YOU, because YOU are present in whatever room you are in right now.

point“YOU,” the listener is always present. “I” the speaker is always present. “WE” the group of us both is always present. Any other group or individual is only present if you can point at them and name them.

In a public speaking situation, here’s how I might replace hypothetical, nameless, imaginary, absentee individuals with ME or YOU.

Sometimes it’s easy for ME to be an “absent-minded” speaker.  I don’t mean that I’m “absentminded,” in the sense that I forget things. I mean that when WE are speakers, it’s easy to talk about people who are “absent.” This happens when YOU use words to reference people who aren’t in the room.

Sometimes you have to refer to “other people,” but the language becomes much more relevant and engaging when you reword it as much as possible from the perspective of someone who is “present.”

Danger Will Robinson


Be careful! Before you apply any presentation skills, try any new public speaking techniques, or implement any communication advice, make sure you understand the principle behind it.

You have to do it right or it will completely backfire. There is a gigantic exception to this present-not-absent rule.

The problem:

DON’T talk about people that are absent.

The solution:

DO talk about someone present that you can point at . . .

The exception:

. . . UNLESS pointing would be dis-empowering.

Notice that when I was saying something BAD, I didn’t use the word YOU.

I didn’t say “Sometimes it’s easy for YOU to be an absent-minded speaker.” I said, “Sometimes it’s easy for ME to be an absent-minded speaker.”

One of the core principles of my SpeechDeck public speaking skills program is the need to continually “Empower the Individual” listener.

Imagine pointing at the listener while you say the words. If pointing at them would be uncomfortable for them, apply the words to yourself, or to an “absent” group. On the other hand, if the words are empowering, frame them around someone who is present.

By “pointing,” I don’t mean to imply that you literally have to point at someone. BUT if it would be inappropriate to physically point at someone, it’s probably equally ineffective to verbally point out someone.

Example 1:

YOU do stupid things sometimes.

That’s not empowering. If you want to talk about som thing negative like “doing stupid things,” try:

I do stupid things sometimes.


PEOPLE do stupid things sometimes.

Example 2:

I’d like to thank “all those people” that organized this event.

NO! Empower people who are PRESENT, who you can point out and name:

I’d like to thank BOB for organizing this event, and EMILY running the sound in the back, and raise your hand if YOU were on the setup committee.

Example 3:

“Some people” find it hard to save money.

You can’t point at “some people.” Try talking to an individual who is present.

Have YOU ever found it hard to save money?


One simple rule that will make you more engaging and more persuasive:

Talk about someone who is PRESENT that you can point out . . . unless pointing would be dis-empowering.

Whenever possible, avoid ABSENT-mindedness and empower those who are PRESENT.

Those are some effective PRESENTation skills!

Elderly woman wearing glasses image source: amenclinics.com


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