Presenting is one of the greatest privileges any of us could experience. When you pause for a moment to consider the most precious resource we all have, it is of course time. We live in such a fast-paced world with so may demands on our time that we scarcely find moments to value the minutes that pass us by so furiously.
It’s no wonder than one of the greatest sources of anxiety is our fear of wasting our audience’s time. Regardless of the health of our individual level of self-worth, we all inherently know that no one has time to listen to us unless we have something worthwhile to say. That’s often why so many of us speak so quickly and go out of our way to tell our audience everything we know rather than what they need to know.
We have also evolved in a world where many of us were taught that presenting is more about the speaker than it is our audience. Some of our predecessors in business have inadvertently used their position, authority and knowledge to simply massage their egos at their audience’s expense.
Look at how much I know, have clever, creative and important I am, has long been the internal mantra of many business professionals. In our strife for acknowledgement, acceptance and respect for ourselves many of us have been taught to disrespect our audience in our quest to simply look good.
At Mindful Presenter our philosophy is that our presentation is nothing to do with us and everything to do with our audience.
Most articles on presenting and public speaking will tell you that every presentation has to have 3 parts; a beginning, middle and end. Personally, I find the obviousness of such a simple truth annoying. What I believe they should say is at the very core of every part of your presentation or speech should be the word respect.
How do you respect your audience?
1. Don’t tell them how wonderful you are.
A couple of years ago I spent several hundred pounds to attend a full day conference organised by one of the most established networking organisations in London. Their promise was to show me how to ‘harness technology for business growth’. I spent the entire day listening to some of the biggest and most successful brands in the world tell me how fabulous they were.
I was already a customer of most of the them and I learned nothing aligned to their promise.
Respecting our audience means that we have to leave our egos at home and not use their time to tell them how much we know and how great we are. Our job is to tell them how we can help them and how what we have to say will make a difference to their professional or personal lives.
2. Do your homework
Respect means doing whatever it takes in advance to learn as much as you possibly can about your audience before you even begin to think about your presentation.
Don’t make assumptions that what you have to say will be of interest or value to them. Ask them.
Phone them or send them an email telling them what you have in mind and ask them how helpful that would be. But more importantly, ask what they want, need and expect from you.
I used to have a boss who was always generous in telling me what a great presenter I was but how what I presented wasn’t what he wanted. My polite response was that I wasn’t a mind reader. How could he possibly expect me to know what he wanted? After that conversation he told me in advance what he wanted and expected.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare
I once created for myself the very unfortunate and unintentional situation of upsetting a delegate on one of our workshops. During the section where we were discussing and exploring bad habits she told me what her bad habit was.
‘I don’t prepare’
I replied saying, ‘I don’t think that’s a bad habit.
She smiled thinking that all was well.
I then went on to add to say that ‘what I think you have is a bad attitude’.
I went on the stress that I was only being serious if she was. I explained that if she genuinely didn’t prepare then she was disrespecting her audience and had no right to present to them.
We have to prepare. No exceptions.
4. Don’t just learn your lines
The old saying ‘practice makes perfect’ is a little misleading. You can practice something exhaustively but that doesn’t necessarily make you good at it. We owe it to our audience when presenting to practice our presentation on a whole new level.
- Knowing our message and the key supporting points
- The verbal expression of our message. How do we actually sound when we express it vocally; what works and what doesn’t work.
- The non-verbal expression of our message. How do we look, how do we stand, how much eye contact do we make, how do we gesture?
5. Get them involved
I don’t really know anyone who likes sitting through business presentations. Most of them are similar and many are boring. Everyone I know (myself included) likes a good conversation.
Don’t be the one who is doing all of the talking.
Ask them questions and give them time to respond. Challenge and stimulate their thinking by crafting a conversation rather than a lecture.
Don’t overwhelm them with data. They don’t need it all, won’t remember it and won’t thank you for it. Imagine you are are panning your data for gold and give them only the big shiny nuggets.
6. Please, please don’t read
By far the most disrespectful thing you can do to your audience is to insult their intelligence by reading your slides to them. The moment you do so you are telling them that they can’t read. If you insist on ignoring this advice then be aware that despite what we have been led to believe, your audience can’t read and listen to you at the same time; not effectively anyway.
Use images, make them clear, creative and compelling.
Stick to one idea per slide, make it bold, make it relevant and make it matter.
7. Start with the end in mind
At Mindful Presenter we believe that presenting is actually quite easy. Anyone can do it with varying levels of confidence and clarity. Millions of us are doing it every single day in businesses all over the world. Our greatest challenge and the mistake many professionals make is not being explicitly clear in our own minds how we want our audience to feel.
The great way to connect with your audience is to help them to feel something. The very first thing we have to do is to decide exactly what we want our audience to feel when we have finished speaking.
8. Close with clarity
Have you ever sat through a business presentation and left the room not knowing exactly what the presenter wants you to do with all of that information they just shared with you?
It doesn’t matter how rich your content is, how stunning your slides are or how compelling your message is. You have to tell your audience what you want them to do next. Don’t leave them guessing.
9. Connecting is everything
The only thing your audience want from you is to connect with you and your message.
Connecting really is everything and the way to do so is by treating your audience with the utmost respect. As you set about doing so make sure you:
- Make eye contact
- Be honest
- Be open
- Tell them stories
- Be authentic
- Be passionate
If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.
Image courtesy of: istockphoto.com