The World is Changing — What About Public Speaking & Presenting?
Has public speaking and presenting changed over the years or is it just the rest of the world that seems to have moved on?
As a small boy my childhood dream was to travel all the way to to Disney World in Florida to see Mickey and his pals. Even though I was only four or five years old I knew it would never happen because as a family we never went on holiday. My parents didn’t have much money as I was growing up and so I stood as much chance of flying to the moon as I did finding myself in Orlando. I never let that dream die though and decided that whatever it took one day I would get to see Mickey in the flesh (I mean costume)
When I was twenty years old I heard that my older brother was taking his young family over to Disney World and I found the cash to book a cheap fly-drive to go out to see them. It didn’t seem right going out there all on my own as a 20 year old but now I had the perfect excuse; to spend time with my young nieces and nephews at the happiest place on earth and see Mickey.
One day I was queuing for a ride at Magic Kingdom and I noticed a family standing right in front of me with the dad carrying what looked like a small suitcase onto the ride. I couldn’t help laughing to myself thinking why on earth would anyone take a small suitcase onto a ride where you could just about squeeze into the seat. After a short while I realised on closer inspection that it wasn’t a suitcase at all.
It was a mobile phone!
Please keep in mind that this was over 30 years ago and that was how they made mobile phones back then; there was nothing mobile or portable about those beasts at all. As I reflect back on that experience I can’t help looking at my iPhone 6 today thinking how much the world has changed in the last 30 years.
Camera’s no longer need film; in fact, many people don’t even use cameras anymore.
Televisions have hundreds of channels.
We now have:
Non-invasive laser surgery,
That’s just scratching the surface of advances in technology and we all know that life is much more than technology. It doesn’t matter what aspect of life, society or the world you choose to look at, the last 30 years have seen incredible change.
I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years brings.
Given that just about everything seems to have changed I often ask the question ‘What if anything has changed in the last 30 years in the world of public speaking and presenting?
My experience is, not a great deal.
Whilst we’ve seen the arrival of PowerPoint and a range of other presentation software over the last 30 years I believe that technology and techniques aside professionals working in some of the biggest and most successful brands in the world are still presenting exactly the same as they were 30 years ago
In conferences, board rooms, team meetings, sales pitches, updates and key notes all over the world too many people are stifling yawns whilst discreetly checking their email on their mobile phones.
Bullet point after bullet point, slides fraught with text you can barely read, graphs, charts, tables and a torrent of data designed to impress are numbing people to sleep every day all over the world. Far too many presenters continue to insist on dumping information on their audience which they could have conveyed far less painfully in an email. Oblivious to the pain and suffering presenters are inflicting on fellow human beings their appetite to demonstrate how much they know and how hard they work seems to be relentless.
What’s worse is when you ask those same presenters how they feel when they are on the receiving end of information and data abuse their distress is obvious. What is more concerning is when you ask the same professional why it is they do the same thing to their audience knowing the psychological and emotional suffering they are causing they often answer saying:
‘I don’t know’
‘Everyone does it’
‘It’s just the way we work’
‘I don’t really have a choice’
‘I have to, my audience want and need the information’
We live in the digital information age where people are bombarded with data and information each day and most of it is impersonal and disconnected. Many of us are already overwhelmed with so many statistics, ideas, messages and advice that we have little time to think.
When we are sitting in a room listening to another human being the one thing we need more than anything else is to feel connected to the person presenting and to their idea. It’s the emotional connection which helps us to understand and act on the information shared.
We may have seen improvements in some areas in the way we present to each other in business but in our experience for the most part things really haven’t changed too much.
As presenters we need to take ourselves off of ‘auto-pilot’, slow down, calm down and breathe. As we do so we can then begin to craft our presentation with the end in mind.
Our starting point should always be understanding our intention. In other words, why are we really giving the presentation and how do we want our audience to feel about our message and the information we are planning to share.
If you set out with the pure intention of really connecting with your audience then you will find a way to do so which respects them and puts them first. Here’s an introduction to just a few ways to approach making that crucial emotional connection:
Make it personal
Speak to them as though you are sitting across the dinner table from them, make eye contact and don’t forget to smile.
Make sure that everything you say, show and do is personal and relevant to them.
Imagine you are presenting an idea or sharing a fact which you consider to be important and as you craft your presentation consider how you would answer if one of your audience interrupted by asking ‘ So what, why should I care about that?’
Ask yourself how what you have to say will make a difference to their professional or personal lives, how they will feel about it and the impact you will have on them. If you don’t have good answers to any of those questions then either send them an email instead or completely re-think why you are planning to call them together.
How many times have you left a business presentation frustrated in the knowledge that the presenter had essentially just wasted most of your time? Give them something they don’t already know or can’t easily Google for themselves.
How many times have you left a business presentation annoyed in the knowledge that the presenter could have shared most of what they had to say in a fraction of the time they used as most of it was self indulgent and unnecessary? Don’t pad it out or try to impress them, get straight to the point.
How many times have you left a business presentation disappointed in the knowledge that you were already familiar or conversant with much of what they shared; there was nothing really knew? Make a point of asking your audience how much they already know about your topic before they arrive to listen to you. While you ask them that question make the effort find out what they would like to know and how you could help them.
How many times have you left a business presentation irritated in the knowledge that you could have understood the information far more quickly and effectively through reading a document or email?
Make them feel something
Don’t just dump data and facts on them. They will forget most of what you shared before they even return to their desk or their car.
Make them feel something about the information you are sharing.
Use humour, compassion and empathy; they maybe your audience but they are also someone’s, husband, wife, brother, sister, son or daughter; they have feelings.
Give them a new perspective, show them a new way, ask them questions.
Tell them stories, after all that’s how we are all hardwired to listen, learn and connect.
Find common ground by putting yourself in their shoes and make sure they know you understand them.
I still believe that Disney World is the happiest place on earth and as presenters there is a great deal we can learn from them.
Make your next presentation the happiest place to be by connecting with your audience.
The world has changed and continues to changes at an extremely rapid rate and we owe it to our audience to change the way we present our ideas to them. At Mindful Presenter we believe that ‘connecting is everything’ and connecting emotionally as well as intellectually with our audience is the one thing that still has to change today.
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.