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Good presentation skills aren’t reserved exclusively as a competence for the annual performance review of the head of department or communication manager. It’s also not an activity isolated to the board or meeting room; it’s fundamental to the personal and professional success of each of us.
Whatever you do you can be certain that at some point during the day you are try to influence, engage, persuade or even inspire someone you work with. Let’s face it; it’s easy to simply share information, knowledge or ideas. The challenge for each of us is to do so in a way that connects emotionally as well as intellectually to the people listening to us.
‘Connecting is everything’
It seems to me that we live in a world of noise.
Mobile phones, email, junk mail, social media, the internet, television, radio (even in the car), customers, colleagues, children, companions and even the cat are all fighting for our attention.
Some people reach for their mobile phones before their eyes are even fully open when they wake up in the morning to make sure they didn’t miss anything whilst they slept. As our neurons get straight to work trying to take in even more data before our first coffee we turn on the TV to be greeted by Piers Morgan furiously tapping his pen as we filter his verbal barrage.
It’s all too much!
Of course, that’s just ‘the tip of the iceberg’ as they say.
We mustn’t forget the tens of thousands of thoughts that are running through that 3lb of grey matter we call our brain each day. Some of which are very helpful, kind and empowering yet which have to compete for our attention with the negative and unhelpful ones.
We have projects, deadlines, targets and to-do lists which seem to have a life of their very own and then just when you think things couldn’t possibly get any worse, guess what?
You are invited to attend a presentation at work of perhaps even give one yourself.
You’ve been there before.
The same people sitting in the same seats, thinking and saying the same things in the same way as you live in hope that the only respite may be the biscuits.
Sadly, it soon becomes clear that even the biscuits are the same!
The following advice has been crafted with the presenter in mind to ensure you know exactly what your audience wants and needs from you to ensure that they look forward to rather than dread your next presentation.
1. Curiosity liberated the cat, it didn’t kill it
The old proverb ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ was designed to warn us of the dangers of being too inquisitive. When it comes to presenting and connecting with our audience it’s one of our greatest gifts. It’s what our audience have the moment they sit down and it’s what we as presenters need before we begin to craft our presentation.
The vast majority of professionals in the workplace today would rather do anything else but sit through another presentation. With the assumption that it’s likely to be too long, too boring and too irrelevant it’s not something most of us tend to get excited about.
The first question dominating your audience’s subconscious mind is ‘Am I in the right room?’ It’s not a logistical question it’s one which relates to purpose, value and meaning. That’s why the very first thing we have to do as presenters is to capture our audience’s undivided interest and curiosity. You could argue that you already have their attention by virtue of the fact that they turned up in the first place.
If you’re curious about how to go about using curiosity watch the following short YouTube presentation by Phil Waknell; ‘How to make your audience curious?’
2. Make it personal
During our presentation training courses I often ask the question ‘What is the most popular radio station on the planet?’ After a few wild guesses are put forward I then admit that I don’t actually know myself but it’s my belief that it’s WIIFM.
What’s In It for Me?
That’s all our audience really care about. If they are investing 20 or 40 minutes of their life listening to you what’s in it for them and why should they care?
Once they know that they are in the right room all they want from you thereon in is a promise that everything you say, show and do will be completely relevant and personal to them. Remember, they already live in a world of noise and anything which isn’t personal to them in some way will simply be filtered as more noise.
Keeping your presentation personal is like many things in life, it’s simple but it’s not easy. It takes mindfulness and courage.
The starting point is learning as much as you possibly can about who your audience are, how much they know already and how you can help them. Once you are clear that you know what’s in it for them ask yourself the question ‘so what?’
In other words, for every slide you share and every statement you make imagine how you would answer if your audience stopped you in your tracks and asked, ‘So what, why should I care about that?’
3. Think like a ‘tweet’
At the heart of every great presentation is a simple, clear and compelling message. Without a clear and powerful message a presentation is arguably pointless. If it’s simply information which could easily be sent out in the form of an email it’s doing your audience a huge disservice calling them all together in the same room.
What’s so important that they had to drop everything to come and listen to you?
What difference will it make to their personal or professional lives?
What do you want them to remember and why?
If you want them to tweet your message to the rest of their department, the company or even the world when they leave your presentation what would the tweet say.
If you don’t know before you utter a word you can be certain they won’t by the time you’ve finished. A presentation without a clear, personal and powerful message is like a sandwich without any filling; its dry, boring and you are highly unlikely to want another.
Whilst they aren’t business presentations of course as I looked at my Twitter feed whilst writing this article the top 5 messages were:
‘Our Lloyds scholars programme offers unique financial and support packages for young people’ – LBG News
‘Today’s key question – how well do you separate the person from the performance?’ – Tony Richards
‘Facts in speeches must be correct. Mistakes will destroy your credibility’ – Andy O’Sullivan
‘It’s time to stop making excuses and start bringing in-person social skills to the digital world’ – Ted Rubin
‘ One reason diversity is a divider? We don’t see beyond the obvious. Asking deeper questions brings a more human experience’ – Shainul Kassam
4. Bring it too life
A presentation consisting simply of information, jargon and data is arguably just noise. I would go as far as to say that most of it is forgotten by the time your audience return to their desk or car. The memorable ones however are remembered because they are the same words brought to life giving the message and presentation real impact.
Your audience want:
5. What now?
Crafting and delivering a clear and powerful message which has captured the curiosity and interest of your audience whilst being totally relevant and even brought to life is still not enough.
What they need from you now is absolute clarity on what you want them to do next. They like, accept and buy into your message, you’ve engaged and connected with them and everything has gone extremely well from your perspective and theirs.
What do you want them to do now?
When they leave that room what do you want them to think, feel and most importantly do? You’ve just spent the last 20 minutes taking them on a journey of thoughts and feelings whilst delivering the facts, so what do you expect from them when it’s over? If you don’t know then they won’t either and if you do know but you don’t tell them you could argue that you simply wasted your time and theirs because if they do nothing what was the point.
Presenting doesn’t have to be daunting or complex for either us as presenters or our audience. If we keep in mind that they only really want 5 things from us:
- Let them know that they are in the right room and will be glad they came as soon as they sit down.
- Make sure that everything you say, show and do is personal and relevant to them.
- Deliver a message which is clear and compelling making sure that its relevant and personal too.
- Don’t just tell them what you have to say. Bring your words and message to life.
- Don’t assume they know what you want them to do when they leave the room, make it crystal clear.
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This article originally appeared in Mindful Presenter.