Thoughts and Comments from Lucy Seifert
In giving a presentation, have you ever:
- Felt unprepared?
- Given your speech at breakneck speed?
- Lost the thread of what you wanted to say?
- Mumbled, looked down and evaded your audience’s gaze?
- Felt so nervous, you avoid other speaking opportunities whenever you can?
In a recent blog, I gave practical tips towards making a successful presentation. This latest blog looks more at the content and delivery of a presentation .
Think about your audience
Stage fright is about fear of the audience, how you will come across to them and what they will think of you. Perhaps you worry about what can go wrong and make you look stupid in front of all those people watching and - hopefully - listening to you!
The focus of this blog is how thinking about your audience will help you be better prepared and more confident. Ask yourself:
- Do you know who they are & what they expect?
- Can they follow you?
- Can they hear you?
- Can they keep up with you?
- Can they understand?
- Can they feel your enthusiasm, & so feel enthusiastic too?
1. Do you know who they are & what they expect?
One of the main reasons a presentation can fail is that it misses the audience’s expectations. So try to find out who will be in your audience, and what they hope to gain. Check the notices for the event, speak in advance to individuals who are attending or where relevant to the person who asked them to attend. Discover their background, knowledge and what they expect? This will inform your preparation so that you pitch it at the right level and deliver the right objectives.
2. Can they follow you?
When you read an article or book, you can refer back if you miss something. When you are listening you are fully reliant on the speaker. So when the speaker is YOU, ensure you have a clear structure, with an introduction, middle and conclusion. Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em so they know the direction you’re headed. Use clear structures in the middle, such theory and practice or problem – solution.
3. Can they hear you?
If your voice is soft, you look down or mumble, the audience is unlikely to hear easily and may therefore switch off. Take care not to swallow your sentences or trail off, be aware of your breathing and phrasing. If you’re not sure they can hear, you can ask – “Can you hear me?”. You can also watch for clues – by watching your audience you can notice if as a whole, or some of the audience, find it hard to hear and so adjust the way you are speaking.
4. Can they keep up with you?
Clients often tell me they speak fast in order to get to the end of their presentation as quickly as possible. However, if you do this, your audience may not even get started. They can get left behind early on. Audiences need time to process information and ideas; if you rush from one point to the next, they may still be digesting the last point while you are on to the next, which they miss. So pace it, don’t race it. Through pacing and brief pausing, allow listeners to absorb and reflect.
5. Can they understand?
Knowing who is in your audience helps you pitch your content and delivery at the right level. The listeners can’t read the names in a book or look up jargon. So write up, hand out or present on a Power-point slide, unfamiliar names, expressions, jargon and technical words. Check from time to time for understanding, allow people to ask occasional questions for clarification.
6. Can they feel your enthusiasm, & so feel enthusiastic too?
Enthusiasm is infectious. Have you ever listened to a speaker who sounds disinterested, as if they’ve said the same thing time and again? It’s hard to warm to them or their topic; they can even make an interesting topic sound boring. So express yourself positively, with enthusiasm. If you are giving the same speech several times, design it differently from time to time, adding new stories, quotes, rhetorical questions, what are called ‘hooks’ in public speaking, designed to draw your audience towards you.
Think more about them, less about yourself, what you look like, how you come across and what might go wrong. With audiences where you can see the faces, don’t speak as if to an amorphous mass. Rather imagine you are having a one to one with everyone, gain eye contact with individuals in different parts of the audience, watch them for clues, and show them you are listening to them too with your eyes and your ears. The more you focus your mind on them, the less self-conscious and more confident you will feel. Finally, take up all the speaking opportunities you can; the more you do, the more confident you will become.
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