I confess that I am a voyeur; more specifically, a presentation voyeur. I like to watch people who deliver effective presentations and then, I practise until the habits I observe become my own. Here are some lessons I have learned along the way.
• Know your audience. Customize your talk to the interests and knowledge of your audience. Find out who they are and what they need from your talk. Use the information to plan a talk that engages.
• Craft your talking points. Using your own experience, develop your talk as a story with a compelling hook, theme, characters, and storyline. Stitch your story together with common threads that you draw out during the telling. For instance, you might use an extended metaphor, such as sewing terms, and make allusions to the theme as you present your talk. Weave in some self-deprecating humour. Use plain language and real-life examples to engage people. Just as in writing, be concise, clear, and easy to follow.
• Choose your props. Decide what technology you will use, including presentation software, and then make sure that it works! Your visuals should complement your talk. Use each one as a point of departure as you begin to elaborate on an idea. Visuals include images, bulleted text, and graphic organizers, such as graphs and idea webs. Make sure they provide a clear and concise message. Display a minimum of text. How often have you scanned a text-dense Power Point, only to have the speaker read the content that you already understood? Instead, use presentation software as an aid to expand on your talking points. Don’t use it as closed captioning.
• Rehearse. Everyone needs a presentation skills coach! If your coach’s eyes glaze over during your rehearsal, find out whether the problem is the content or the delivery. Use the feedback to improve. You might videotape your performance and analyze your voice and body mannerisms.
– Minimize voice mannerisms. These behaviours such as constantly clearing your throat or using the word “like” too often are annoying. If repeating “um” is the problem, practise saying your talk free of “ums.” Record yourself again and listen. If you are still using “um”, train yourself to be silent for those times. This strategy is reminiscent of a popular film, The King’s Speech. I assure you the technique works.
– Consider your body language. This includes eye movements, posture, gestures, and facial expressions. Body language can make up more than half of what you communicate, so use it to advantage. Walking toward the audience creates closeness. Being still, leaning forward, and making steady eye contact with someone who is talking shows you are actively listening. Standing with arms and hands open and relaxed shows openness to what people in your audience say.
• Arrive early. Get there before the audience does and leave after they do. In advance of their arrival, test your presentation software. It is rude to start late because you are struggling with technology. As the audience arrives, chat with them to get an idea of their experience and needs. Mention the names of members of the audience during your talk to help you connect with them.
• Use a conversational delivery. Make direct eye contact with people, not your screen or your shoes. Let your eyes rest for awhile with each person; avoid the deer-in-the-headlights scan of the room.
– Use your vocal range. Deliver the message clearly and loud enough for all to hear. Vary your tone, pitch, and pace of delivery. Be yourself—speak the way you would talk with a colleague.
– Use pauses effectively. Even if you are the only person actually talking, pauses allow your audience time to process your message. Pause before making a key point. Use chunking to slow down your speech and give yourself time to think. Chunking is talking in groups of words. It means talking for a few seconds, being silent for a second, and then talking again. Think about how you might break up your sentences and use this technique effectively.
– Invite interaction. Smile, be energetic, and engage the audience. We live in a world of engagement through social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. So, incorporate participation in your talk. You might pose open-ended questions or poll the audience.
• Check the audience reaction. People have a limited listening span. If the audience has been listening too long, engage them in an activity or pose a question.
There is much more to learn from effective presenters. Become a presentation voyeur and/or go to www.dameditors.ca and follow the links about effective presentations. Practise some new habits and go from “good to great” the next time you make a presentation.
Continue the conversation by sharing your tips for effective presentations at www.dameditors.ca.