How to keep your audience engaged and still keep your clothes on!
It has been said that the most common human fear is the fear of public speaking. Even the most outgoing and charming people can become paralyzed by the thought of having to speak in front of a large group of people. We've all seen those worst case scenarios unfold for other people. How many times have you struggled to stay awake during someone's presentation? Eek! You certainly don't want that to happen to you when you present. Whenever you give a presentation, your credibility is on the line so you really need to make sure not to unwittingly undermine your efforts or your cause. We don't ever want to be boring or tedious to listen to in any way.
How can you be sure that your presentation will have the effect you are hoping for? Don't worry. You don't have to get naked or do anything outrageous to keep your audience awake. Here is a comprehensive checklist of 14 things you can do to ensure things go smoothly.
1. Know your presentation material thoroughly: This is the first rule of any presentation and although it seems pretty obvious, a lot of people do not fully prepare for their presentations. They rely heavily on their PowerPoint for fear of forgetting something important and end up boring people to death. The more prepared you are, the more relaxed and confident you will be. People who are obviously nervous are painful to listen to. You don’t want to lose your audience’s attention, so being prepared will go a long way toward helping you deliver an interesting presentation. Besides, if there were a technical problem, you would want to be able to present your talk without the use of PowerPoint.
2. Make sure you look good: Call humans shallow if you want, but psychologists and sociologists have conducted countless studies that show that attractive, well dressed people are perceived as being more intelligent and more capable than people who look unattractive and sloppy. You may not be able to do much about the face you were born with, but you can still wear nice clothing that looks professional. Avoid wearing too many different colours or wild patterns, as they can be distracting. Make sure your hair is neat, and that your overall appearance will be pleasing to most people. Wear office attire, but make sure the clothes you choose fit you well. Ladies should limit accessories and try to look feminine and classy rather than sexy and available. Essentially, both men and women need to dress as though they were going to an important business meeting rather than to a pub or night club. That's my opinion. Smart casual is okay as well, if it suits the audience.
3. Stage set up: If you are lucky enough to be able to choose your stage set up consider having no lectern or standing away from it, since it only creates a barrier between you and the audience. As a speaker, it is important to be able to connect with the audience in order to engage their attention. Avoiding the use of a lectern is one strategy to help you accomplish this.
Another element of your stage set up to consider is the placement of the screen that will display your PowerPoint. PowerPoint should not be at centre stage. You, as the speaker, should be in the centre. The PowerPoint is better when it is off to the side. This almost never can happen, however, so make sure your PowerPoint is attractive, but not the star of the show. I would even advocate not using one at all.
4. Avoid Death by PowerPoint: Since we are on the subject of PowerPoint, please keep in mind the type of graphics you use and limit the content on each slide. The purpose of PowerPoint is not to engage your audience, but rather to act as a substitute for cue cards. With that in mind, how much information do you really need to put in your PowerPoint? Consider having only one word per slide to help jog your memory, and limit the number of slides to about ten, if possible. See my LinkedIn posting 13 Secrets of Superstar Presenters for more ideas about creating nice visuals.
5. Make a point: Have you ever listened to someone give a lecture or speech and then wondered what it was they were trying to say? Some people are very good at saying a lot about nothing and somehow making people believe they delivered a valuable message. Politicians are known for this, particularly in countries where there is no democracy. Don’t follow their speaking style. It is important to have key messages you want the audience to hear and to join them together to make a final point. It also helps to let your audience know in advance what you are going to talk about and then at the end, remind them of what you told them. This will help solidify the message.
6. Timing: Speakers often have difficulty knowing how long to make their presentations and how many words they will need to speak to fill the allotted time. The average English speaker utters 120 words per minute. We don’t always have the luxury of dictating the length of time we use to speak at a conference. When you can do this, 15 minutes is optimal in order to keep the audience engaged. If it has to be longer, simply do the math to figure out how many words you need to write out for your speech. When working out your timing, consider time for pauses, show-of-hands breaks, etc.
7. Speak from diaphragm: There are three places where humans tend to speak from: the throat, the nose and the diaphragm. The latter creates the most pleasant resonance and is the most clear to listen to. Broadcasters, professional singers and professional speakers all use their diaphragm when projecting their voices. That’s why we like listening to them.
Nasal voices are the most unpleasant voices to listen to and an irritated audience is a disengaged audience. Speaking from the throat will cause you to become hoarse and you will lose your ability to be effective very quickly. Don’t believe me? Consider how much more pleasant Madonna’s voice became after she took voice lessons for her role in Evita. Madonna’s earlier songs are mosquito like. Her voice became much more rich and attractive once she learned the proper way to sing.
Adele also needed to take singing lessons in spite of having a successful singing career. Her sexy, dirty voice was the result of singing off her throat. That caused damage to her vocal cords that later required surgery. Adele had to learn to use her diaphragm to project in order to prevent further damage to her vocal cords.
8. Start with a question: Questions are a great way to get the audience engaged from the beginning. If you are one of many speakers at an event, then being engaging will become more challenging as the day progresses. Consider starting with a question and periodically asking the audience for a show of hands throughout your speech. It will keep them on their toes.
9. Change position on stage: You will need to re-engage your audience every ten minutes, so consider using change techniques as well. Moving from one side of the stage to another every ten minutes as well as asking questions of the audience are great ways to keep everyone alert.
10. Be anecdotal: As you present your topic to your audience, consider how you can incorporate stories into your presentation. Little examples of things that happened to you that further demonstrate your point will help the audience remember what you said. Anecdotes also help create a sense of intimacy as you let the audience connect with your personal life. This sharing of experiences lets the audience bond with you and they will actually care about what you are saying.
11. Be animated: Your presentation is all about engagement. It doesn’t matter what you are saying if nobody is listening. Vary the tone of your speech, use correct intonation, use hand gestures, smile and move around. Speakers who are animated are simply more fun to watch and more interesting to listen to.
12. Insert humour: Don’t give a dry speech. Whether the subject matter is complex or simple, adding a little humour will make you more likeable and enhance engagement. Know your audience. Make sure your jokes are not offensive. A little self-deprecating humour usually works.
13. Use simple language: Your audience will be comprised of a variety of people who have any number of things on their minds. Simple language works for everyone. No one is ever confused or offended by plain speech. Consider that some people in the audience may be very tired or stressed, others may not be native speakers of your language and others may even speak a different dialect than you. Did you know that newspapers generally aim for a grade seven level of writing? More “intelligent” publications go for grade nine so there is no benefit to using a lot of big, fancy words.
14. Have a coach: You may think that your presentation went well because everyone clapped when it was over, but trust me, that is not an accurate measurement of a job well done. If you are planning to make money from public speaking events, or if your job requires you to give a lot of presentations, then you should hire a professional to coach you. The expert eye of a professional is critical to your success. While you are practicing your speech and even after an event, have your coach give feedback. This is something that I can do for people, so feel free to let me know if you need my help.
Few public relations & communications specialists have as diverse a background as Renée Cormier. Add published author, employee engagement specialist, sales and marketing strategist, entrepreneur and educator to her list of accomplishments. In her career Renée has held leadership roles in sales and marketing, developed and implemented national marketing strategies and was responsible for teams as large as 28 strong. She brings a wide range of experience and talent to her work.
Renée really shines in marketing communications. She is known for developing and implementing comprehensive communications strategies and generating results through flawless implementation. With such strong business acumen, passion for her work and a natural talent for business strategy, Renée is definitely considered an important resource for her clients.
Is your business in transition? Need help with PR and communications initiatives? Contact Renée through her website. www.reneecormier.com
It is hard to find PR people with the business acumen and the valuable varied experience that I have. If you are serious about growing your business and raising your public profile, then you should talk to me.
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