This summer, I had some remarkably poor experiences watching experts presenting at public forums. It wasn’t that they didn’t know what they were talking about: The problem was that they failed to connect with the audience.
You need to take the following factors into account when you are invited to showcase your expertise, so that you can take control and make an impact.
Who and Where
Understand where you are speaking and how many people are expected to be attending.
A presentation for 10 people in a conference room offers greater intimacy than 30-100 people at a lunch. This also might impact the structure of your presentation (interactive workshop or talk), and whether you use slides or not.
If you are going to be showing videos, make sure that the room has the capability to reproduce the audio.
I sat in on a presentation where a video was shown. There was no audio, but the presenter showed the video anyway. As it played, she started laughing, explaining to us that if we could actually hear the audio, it would really be funny and instructive.
During the video, we mostly sat there and looked at our smartphones.
If you are showing slides, understand what kind of support you have. Make sure the venue has a projector and screen. Bring your own laptop as a backup and purchase a slide changer remote.
If video is critical, consider even bringing your own speakers just in case. If you are offered a microphone, use it. The owners of the venue know something about how the room performs.
Understand when your presentation is expected to start and end. Many presenters would approach an invitation to speak from 10:15 to 11:00 as a requested 45-minute presentation. If the presentation starts late, they may think they still have 45 minutes. Not true.
Understand that if you are expected to end at 11:00 – no matter when you start – you are still expected to end at 11:00. This is especially critical if you have an evening presentation or are the last presentation before lunch or the end of the day.
Nothing kills the last 10 minutes of a presentation more than lots of people walking out when you are making your final conclusions.
For many of us who grew up in corporate environments, our presentation skills were fine-tuned around disseminating information. What we said took high priority over how we said it. No one showed up in the main corporate conference room to socialize or network.
But, when you are invited to keynote, entertainment, networking and socializing can be as important as what you say, depending on the situation.
Timing and Preparation
Arrive early to your presentation. In addition to making sure that things work, spend some time getting to know some of the people who are attending. Understand their expectations of the presentation.
Get some personal information and possibly some anecdotes that you can use to draw the audience members into the presentation. Establish a personal relationship with the host. The host can help you bridge a connection with the audience.
The attendees are there to listen (be entertained), not to read your slides.
Think about pictures or concepts that complement what you are saying. Don’t stand there facing the screen reading the slides. First, it’s harder to hear you. Second, you lose the connection with your audience.
If you have to modify the length of your presentation, it is easier to do it with pictures as opposed to word slides. Have you ever sat through a presentation, where each slide is filled with words and bullets? As the presenter runs out of time, they spend the last few minutes rapidly flipping through slides. It’s uncomfortable for the presenter and the audience.
Put your most important content up front. I have done presentations where the first half of the program was so engaging we never got to the last half – but the audience didn’t realize it.
Spend just enough time giving your background to connect. You don’t have to prove that you have knowledge. If you are there, your audience assumes that you are credible.
If you are showing a video, let it play and be quiet. Nothing confuses an audience more than having a presenter compete with a video.
Set up the video, let it play, and when it is done then ask, “What do you think?”
Have a personal story to tell? They can really engage an audience, but they may need some context before you start.
I was in a presentation where the expert told a rather complex story about himself and his teenage daughter. At the end of the story, which took about five minutes, he said, “Now you see what this means?”
I really didn’t, but certainly did not want to ask.
Encourage questions and participation. Announcing to attendees to hold questions until the end is a sure way to have people tune out. Most people don’t wait, they just don’t ask.
As you present, interact with the folks you have connected with before the presentation. Think about how powerful it is for you to say, “I was talking to Bob before we started. Here is a tip that could really help him grow his business…”
If someone asks a question or participates, have them stand up. Also, in a bigger room, always repeat the question. You can kill the energy of a presentation by having a conversation with one person that no one else can see or hear.
Have a few dramatic statements that challenge your attendees personally. Doing a presentation to entrepreneurs, a statement like, “No one will give you money if you are not willing to put in your own money!” can get people’s attention.
When I do social media presentations, I will often suggest, “Determine what kind of content you like, your customers and prospects will probably like what you like.”
If the presentation is to a small group, give people the opportunity to get up and say who they are and what they do. This helps with networking afterwards.
Additionally, as attendees talk about themselves, it give you an opening to better relate to them either during the introduction (where you might explain how what you are presenting may help them) or during the presentation (you can relate your content to their situation).
By relating individually to one person, you actually relate to all. It sends a message: This presenter is really thinking about me.
Over to You
Workshops, keynotes and public speaking can offer you a great opportunity to showcase your expertise. But how you do it is just as important – sometimes more important – than what you say.
What do you like in a presenter? What would make you a better presenter?