Delivering a great presentation is all about making a personal connection with each individual who has done you the honour of listening. If they feel like you’ve really ‘spoken’ to them, and they have an identifiable way in which they can practically apply something of value that they’ve learned, then you’ve done your job. This section contains 8 tips for creating that personal connection.
E — Eye Contact
If you can write and deliver your presentation with a single person in mind, then it will sound more intimate to the ear of the listener. I mean quite literally, have in mind a person who fits with the demographic of your audience, someone whom you know and like – and write the presentation just for them. Then when you are delivering the presentation, deliberately make eye contact with the individual members of your audience. If you’re talking to 500 people, that’s obviously not a literal instruction; just select five or six people to make eye contact with, build a connection for five to ten minutes and then move on to your next five or six. Eye contact encourages the person you’re ‘connecting’ with to make positive non-verbal signals, such as smiling and nodding. If you’ve happened upon the one sociopath in your audience who is glaring at you then drop him/her immediately and substitute them for a ‘smiler’. There are some people who are more rewarding than others so it’s okay to stick with an ‘encourager’ throughout your presentation if you feel that you need the support and safety of their nods, smiles and direct eye contact.
E — Expressivity Halo
We instinctively trust people whom we think we can ‘read’ and who don’t appear to be hiding anything. We also begin to form an initial judgment of others within three seconds of meeting them. The expressivity halo is a way of holding our body such that we present as subconsciously trustworthy to others. The posture involves pushing your shoulders back, so that your body is open, holding your chin up, smiling and making eye contact. Unfortunately, when we are nervous, our subconscious tendency is to make ourselves ‘smaller’ by holding our arms close or hiding ourselves behind a lectern. You might not have a choice about the layout of your platform or your preference may be to have a lectern in front of you for practical reasons (such as to hold notes). But if you can develop the habit of consciously adopting the expressivity halo, it will get your presentation off to a great start, but only if you can be genuinely comfortable while doing so; otherwise your discomfort will be leaking all over the stage.
E — Ease Yourself in Gently
The nerves of the speaker are contagious; the audience can feel them emanate from the stage and will be shuffling in their seats if they don’t subside quickly. Those nerves will detract from your message and make you do odd things. At one talk I attended a number of years ago, the speaker had a nervous tendency to lean from one side to the other on stage. It was distracting and soon I, along with the rest of the audience became disengaged. I could feel it, the speaker could feel it, and it made her nervous tic worse, which in turn turned us off more. It’s critical to get your nerves under control quickly. One great tip is to ease yourself in gently by learning the first 60 to 90 seconds of your presentation off pat. That will give you a precious minute or so to find your first set of eyes to connect with and to settle your voice.
E — Engage
The most powerful way to create immediate engagement in a smaller group is to learn their first names. If you’re thinking that you’re just no good at remembering names then please stop right there. As Henry Ford would have said: ‘If you think you can, or can’t, you’re right.’ This technique once stopped me from being ravaged limb from limb by a baying crowd of delegates. Okay, I exaggerate for effect, but my knowing the first names of the majority of them turned the session from a certain failure in to a great success. I was delivering a ‘culture change’ programme for a client. This aspect of the project involved delivering a three hour session to a group of 50 of the most junior members of staff. Unbeknown to me, those members of staff had been told that the session was compulsory and that any failure to attend would result in disciplinary sanctions, but hadn’t been told what the session was about or what they would gain from attending. To make matters worse, the room in which the session was being held at my client’s premises was locked and that led to a delay in me preparing the environment, and having to leave the delegates waiting outside. I could feel the agitation coming off them in waves as they seated themselves in the room.
Despite that, I did my usual round of introducing myself to each of them individually and learning their names as I did so. Whilst introducing myself and the session, a hand shot up. ‘Yes John’, I said.
He was slightly wrong-footed as he realised I had remembered his name, but not completely put off as he said in a loud voice designed to bounce off every wall in the room, ‘What the f**k are we doing here?’
My heart sank. The whole room began to murmur in hostile agreement. I decided to grab the bull by the horns. ‘Thanks for speaking up John. Now, who else has the same question?’ About 20 hands shot up in to the air. ‘Gerald, what were you told about the session? Alison, were you told the same thing? What about you Sonia?’ Pretty quickly, they began to realise that I cared enough to remember their names and listen to why they were unhappy. I said that there was one things we couldn’t change; that we had to spend the next three hours together. However, we could change what we did in those three hours. I gave them the opportunity — from a list of potential content — to tell me what was important for them to discuss and share. I took ten minutes out to re-design the session and then ran what was one of the most successful sessions of the whole programme, judging by the feedback, and yet the content was almost identical to the prescribed content for that part of the programme. By remembering the names of the delegates I was able to pull things back from the brink.
Here are the three tips for remembering names in that kind of environment; believe that you can do it, use a recall mechanism such as thinking of someone you already know with the same name – or a cartoon character or soap opera star — and get someone within the room to do you a ‘map’ of the room with everyone’s name on it as back up. Try it – but believe you can do it!
E — Emphasis
Movement with purpose, or a deliberate pause is effective if there is a point that you particularly want to emphasise……………………………that’s it.
E — Enjoy
I’ve previously talked about the value of storytelling in a presentation. However, there’s nothing that brings a story to life as much as the sense that the storyteller is enjoying telling the story. Find your inner entertainer.
E — Expect
According to a 2010 Harvard research study, our minds are lost in thought on average 47% of the time. Chances are that many minds will therefore wander during your presentation at some point; it’s part of the human condition. Expect people to look at their smartphones and understand that it’s not about you. Just shift your focus to someone else whose mind is still in the room.
E — Ending
Plan for a strong ending such as a call to action, a punchline to a story or a practical ‘take-away’. This ideally could be linked to the one thing that you want the audience to do when they go back to the office/factory/farm/sun-lounger.
On that last note, choose one thing out of this list of eight that you will focus on to build the connection with your audience. Review the list now and commit!