photo credit: Jack sharp @jsharp9066 – unsplash

“I am convinced more than ever that good communication and leadership are all about connecting.” – John Maxwell

Do you need to give a presentation at work, at school and just the thought of having to do so gives you nausea? Do you worry that your presentation will put people to sleep or that your colleagues or boss will not be impressed?  Have your experiences of giving presentations convinced you that you are not the type of person to be able to effectively keep the attention of a group or an audience?  Don’t worry, you are in very good company.

If truth be told, we have simply never been taught how to present or communicate to groups in a way that captures their attention and interest. Most likely, we have gone with the idea that we should just present information – regurgitate information, overload our listeners with information simply because we have the podium.

  Capture Their Interest

A lot of the time speakers shift the blame of a failed presentation on their audience. They might say things like “They weren’t interested” or “They were a boring audience.”  In actuality, bad audiences don’t exist, but poor speakers do. If the audience is falling asleep or paying more attention to their cellphones than the speaker, then maybe the speaker needs to be woken up. Just because a speaker has been given a podium doesn’t guarantee a captive audience. So whose job is to keep the attention of those listening? It is the speaker’s responsibility.

We can not go on the assumption that it is the audience’s job to “get” our point and be enthusiastic.

How can we capture their interest? As speakers, in whatever context we are in, we need to genuinely care about those we are speaking to. Why should they want to listen to us if they perceive that we don’t care for them or about them? At some level, we need to engage with the audience (big or small).  We are not only there to give information but also to help our audience make the information a part of them.

The following was inspired by the book Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, by leadership author and speaker John Maxwell.

 Speak Their Language 

A second point in delivering an interesting and effective presentation is to be aware of the context of the listeners. As speakers, we can not simply remain in our own heads and our own reality and expect others to “get it.” We need to move into their perspective, their world, so to speak. When we move towards our audience in this way we effectively close the distance between us and them and create a connection. Let’s consider the following reality about listening:

For the most part, people will remember half of what we tell them, lose about 30 percent after a good night’s sleep and probably another 10 percent in the course of the next day. So if we think they have retained what we presented, there is a strong chance that they will have forgotten most of it in a couple of days. Furthermore, people will only remember what is important to them not what we think is important.

So, to capture the interest of your listeners, we need to speak their language, include them in the process so that they feel that you are talking with them and not at them.

Create Good First Impressions

When we are asked to speak we do not have much time to make a good first impression. The best way to establish a strong impression is to start at the beginning, set the stage, so to speak. Get a sense of the context, what has happened before and what is happening now. Introduce yourself, even if you have already been introduced. Get comfortable and enjoy the experience. If you are relaxed, so will your listeners be. Add some humor (in good taste and appropriate for the situation). Tell your listeners what you are going to talk about and tell it in such a way as to create anticipation if you feel comfortable doing so. I am not suggesting that you do this in a way that is out of keeping with your own personality, only that people like to feel excited about what they are going to hear.

Engage Your Audience

Engaging your audience or listeners can mean something different in different contexts. But engaging your listeners can help them feel a part of the process. For example, you could engage your listeners with general questions or topic related questions, not to put them on the spot, but simply to bring them in and connect. Another possibility is to have your listeners interact with one another by having them discuss a point or ask one another questions. Again, this exercise is to help everyone feel that he or she is a part of a dialogue and not simply a monologue.

 Make Your Points Stick

How can a speaker say things that their listeners will remember long after they have gone home? The key is to connect what you say to what they need at that point to hear. What you say needs to resonate to be effective. Perhaps what you say might be connected to a dream or desire of their hearts or an ambition that they want to pursue. Most of the time people will sit up and take notice when a speaker touches a chord of sensitivity. The only way a speaker can get to this point is by first connecting on common ground in and moving into their world. Only then will the speaker be able to understand the needs and desires of the audience. Other ways to make your presentation memorable are originality, humor in good taste, using unusual or surprising statistics. And never forget the power of the pause. Pausing can give your listeners time to absorb and think about what you have said.

 Be Visual

Many people are visual learners and listening to a monologue of information, features, and benefits and statistics will not grab their attention. Using visual support can be very beneficial in helping listeners understand and remember what a speaker has presented. Of course, it is equally important not to overdo the visuals and rely solely on them to present for you. A speaker needs to connect and visuals, as good as they may be, will not do the connecting for you.  And context is everything. In a business presentation, you might want to avoid doing roleplays with costumes, but if you want to illustrate a concept visually such as the concept of time management, it is perfectly acceptable to use props such as the well-known glass, water, stones, and sand demonstration. Use common sense for what is appropriate in each situation.

Use Stories And Humor

Storytelling will never get old. It is one of the most effective means to illustrate a point or concept, Some people, who are the bottom line, get-to-the-point people might have difficulty with storytelling because they want facts, and action points. but storytelling is powerful because it connects to what people are feeling, which is what a communicator seeks to do in order to teach or explain. It has been said that neuroscience supports the idea that humans are programmed more fore stories than abstract concepts. Stories allow people to understand and remember even very complex concepts easily or at least more easily than if they had been presented abstractly. And stories can be humorous which can a whole other dimension to your presentation.

I hope that this post has been helpful to you in seeing a new way of giving presentations in whatever context you may be required to give one.

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Diana Lynne’s passions are family, traveling, learning, and pursuing a debt-free life. She also loves hanging out with family, friends and being with her dog Skye. Diana is a Quebec City girl. who loves living life.  You can connect with her through