Public speaking and presenting are niche skills. However, almost everyone in today’s workforce is expected to be reasonably competent at presenting to their teams and engaging their audience. How can you make your presentations effective and worth your audiences’ time? Ask yourself these compelling questions, while preparing.
- Am I taking the audience through a journey?
According to Chris Anderson, curator of TED, “a successful talk is a little miracle—people see the world differently afterward.” And that can’t happen with only statistics. Convey a story, because humans are hard wired to tune into them. The key piece here: how do you start and end the story, such that your audience relates to it.
To find the right place to start, consider what people in the audience already know about your subject—and how much they care about it. If you use jargon or get too technical, you’ll lose them. Studying the most engaging speakers has shown that they do a good job of very quickly introducing the topic, explaining why they care so deeply about it, and sharing with the audience about what’s in it for them, so they start caring as well.
- Is the problem I’m solving conveyed with clarity?
This is the ‘why’ of the presentation, the inspiration or motivation. And a possible starting point for the journey. Are you jumping to the solution or your proposition, before setting the context for the gathering? If yes, then the relevance of your presentation might be unclear.
Also, why is it important to address the problem right now? Talking about the cost of not taking action or continuing to apply redundant solutions, will help your audience prioritize.
- What is the call-to-action for my audience?
If the above two pieces are in place, then your presentation is well begun. But if at the end of it, your audience is not sure about the first action step they need to take, your presentation will have lost its impact. The next step may be obvious to you — brainstorm for strategies or approve the budget for the full-scale launch. But not to your audience. The winner then – a list of things that your audience can do, within specific timelines.
- How can I connect with my audience better?
Ever wondered why TED talks are so engaging? According to Anderson, the best of the talks are memorized precisely and rehearsed multiple times. The message here – avoid reading out from a script. Instead, you can develop a set of bullet points that map out what you’re going to say in each section. But ensure you are prepped in some way. In an improvised presentation, there will be moments of awkwardness and blanking out, which disconnects you from the group.
- What about my presence as a speaker?
Researchers say that an audience expects you to be nervous. But how do you manage it for yourself? Just keep your lower body motionless. It can dramatically improve your confidence. There are some people who are able to walk around. But the vast majority are better off standing still and relying on hand gestures for emphasis. And, make eye contact. Find a few happy faces in the audience and direct your gaze towards them, as if they were friends you’ve known for a while. It makes for a powerful experience!
While presenting, don’t forget to build a connection with the people. It’s a foundational practice that makes all group interactions successful. Show your personality, and offer something fresh, something no one has seen before. You’ll be closer to the winning line than you think.