How to avoid the Waffle Trap

How to avoid the Waffle Trap

If you have ever found yourself rattling on in a presentation or meeting, you may just have succumbed to the “Waffle Trap”.

The Waffle Trap has ruined, or at the very least, weakened many a presentation, and I’m not just talking about formal presentations – in fact, it is a common occurrence in meetings with customers, internal meetings and presentations. AVOID WAFFLE AT ALL COSTS if you want to come across with presence, gravitas and authority.

If you want people to see you as uncertain, unfocused or apologetic, then by all means go ahead and waffle to your heart’s content. But I hope not.

If you’ve done your homework and are convinced your messages and points are worth hearing and considering, then it’s worth you making the effort to ensure they make the best impact, which definitely means. . . no waffle.

The Waffle Trap can be described as:

  • talking, apparently aimlessly, without making a clear point
  • continuing to speak when you have already made your point clearly
  • including far too much detail – more than is needed to strengthen your position (this ends up weakening it because people lose interest and forget the main bits!)
  • Veering off into territory that shares only a tenuous link with your main message or messages

If you tell me that this has never happened to you, I’ll believe you – although millions wouldn’t!

The Waffle Trap can be unintentionally activated when:

  • You haven’t prepared your main messages and supporting points in clear, well structured phrases
  • you put them out there because you are not sure your point was clear
  • you then fear that the listeners (one, some or all) may be in disagreement, so you feel the need to add “supporting” information on the spot, which may not be well thought out or presented – especially if you feel nervous
  • You are feeling apologetic about the information you are providing.
  • You are suffering from “imposter syndrome” or some other modern work-related psychological confidence-suck, like thinking that everyone in the room is more capable / experienced/ somehow better than you and that they are doubting your competence and capability.

The problem is, it seems like a good idea at the time. You’re standing or sitting there looking at faces that don’t seem to be registering the importance of what you’ve just said, and you think “clearly they don’t get it”. Unconsciously you are also wondering whether you’ve just not done a good enough job in presenting the information. So you try to make up for it only to realise 5 minutes later that you have lost the plot, and along with it, your authority — and you may then begin to trail off, mumbling something like “Well, that’s the proposal. . . .do you have any questions?”

If this sounds like a familiar scenario (or one you’d like to take preemptive action to avoid) here are 7 ways to completely circumvent the Waffle Trap and ensure you don’t succumb to its easy allure:

  1. Don’t start with preparing your slides. Start with preparing your messages.
  2. Formulate your messages or points clearly in the first place, and have a structure for them. A way to test yourself on this is to try to deliver the key points in 2-3 minutes. Okay, you won’t be including much supporting evidence or bringing it to life with examples in 2-3 minutes, but you will see whether you yourself understand the points you need to make.
  3. Decide on an impactful opener and build your supporting evidence, slides, examples and images into what is now a clear presentation of well-articulated points, ideas or options for others to consider or act upon.
  4. For particularly important occasions (a pitch, an internal steering group meeting with several senior leaders, a big team meeting or an update on a major project for example) practice delivering the presentation out loud, and film or record yourself. When you listen to it, try to detach yourself enough to imagine that you are the audience and listen/watch for impact; if you imagine you are one of the other attendees, what considerations, priorities and concerns are raised? Where is more clarity, interest, passion or engagement needed? The added benefit to recording yourself is that it allows you to see whether your body language (posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact etc) and your voice are all congruent with your words. Are you coming across as authentic and connected? if not, make adjustments accordingly.
  5. Get used to the idea that Pausing can be Powerful!  A silent pause is so much more impactful than an “um”, “em”, or repeated “filler word” – or phrase such as basically, obviously, to be honest, etc.
  6. If you really think your audience is not engaged or “getting” what you are saying, ask an open question or give them something to do.  For example, “What are your thoughts so far?” or “What would we do if this happened? Let’s take a few minutes and discuss this in pairs, then I’ll ask for your feedback.” It can be anything that you can then link to your next point. Just be prepared to deal appropriately with the responses you get! (If you need some help with that, let me know.)
  7. End on a decisive note. Some people like to summarise the main points, some like to end with an illustrative story and others prefer to simply thank the audience for their attention. It’s your choice. Thinking about it beforehand will help ensure that how you conclude helps you maintain impact, engagement and authority.

If you take these 7 steps before meetings or presentations you can definitely help yourself avoid the Waffle Trap and enhance your positive impact, presence and authority as well.

P.S. This article from Forbes is not about avoiding the Waffle Trap per se, but there are some great ideas here that you might also like: .


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