Engage the audience
People respond to people. Rarely will you hold the attention of your audience through content alone. To engage the audience you need to interact with them, share your warm personality and gentle sense of humour and invite them to participate in some way.
Here are some suggestions:
Big smile and warm body language is a good start
Those first few seconds are vital to setting expectations of the presentation to come. Whether you are presenting to a small group or to a conference in a large auditorium, radiating warmth is always a good start.
At political party conferences or conventions, Prime Ministers and Presidents will smile and wave to individuals in the crowd. Truth is, they can't see anyone in the crowd for the flashlights and the glare of the TV lights. It is simply a ruse to give the appearance of being friendly. And it works.
Work hard to win over the audience early on
Work hard to win over the audience very early on. They will reward you with positive body language - smiling, nodding, open arms etc. You will pick up on this - even if only subconsciously - and it will give you a big confidence boost. This is especially important if you are a bit nervous or you don't know the people you are presenting to. Start the warm-up process before the presentation starts - especially if you don't know everyone well.
Be enthusiastic - it is infectious and it gets the audience on your side.
Connect with the audience physically
I was in a meeting recently when the presenter sat himself in a dark corner next to the screen, half-hidden from the audience. Result? He sounded like a voiceover to the presentation and failed to make any impact.
Make eye contact - with everyone if this is practical. Think of the little things like where you are in the room and whether you are standing or sitting. Can you see everyone?
Get up close, walk the room, use hand gestures to make people feel included.
Involve the audience
A good way to win over the audience is to involve them. Use their names, ask questions, encourage feedback. Treat your audience like dinner guests; put them, not your charts, at the centre of your attention.
Create interest early
A presentation is not a detective story. If you leave the interesting bits to the end you run a real risk of the audience losing interest.
Tone of voice really does matter, so infuse your words with emotion and avoid the monotone drone that can happen if someone is reading off a script, or worse still reading from a slide.
Many years ago a TV ad featured Peter Ustinov reading out lines from the Yellow pages directory. It was a 40 second master class in how to use tone of voice to give words emotion and interest.
It is the vowels that deliver the dramatic emphasis.
Make it personal
Comedian, Peter Kay tells a story about his rise from playing pubs in Bolton for a few pounds a night to star billing at the Manchester Arena, where he holds the UK record for the largest audience to a live comedy act.
In his story he tells how he discovered that by starting a joke with the words "I walked into a pub" he gets a better response than starting the same joke with the words "a man walked into a pub".
Why? Because it sounds more personal and people warm to that.
Speak from the heart
Notes are ok, but speaking from the heart is much better. Use notes only if you have to. And don't memorise what you want to say word-perfect. It is better to sound natural even though you may hesitate occasionally.
Most people who use notes don't actually need them. It is there as a security blanket. So here is a suggestion: take your note but don't use them. Have them in front of you but turn them over and say what you want to say. If you forget what you want to say next then have a look. In most cases this will work just fine although if you are presenting from a conference platform or without visual aids and have a lot to say, then maybe notes will help.
Plan high points into your presentation
A high point is anything that raises audience engagement levels. It might be a gag or a coffee break or some audience interaction or even a change of presenter.
Here are a couple of good rules
- 20 minutes is about as long as an audience is prepared to listen to you without a break or being involved in some way.
- 40 minutes is as long as you've got before they need a get-out-of-their-seat break. Maybe at the beginning of the day when they are fresh you can hold them a bit longer, but after an hour they are beginning to think about the tea break.
Don't make the audience work too hard
Focus on the main points only. Keep the charts minimalist and use lots of images.
Leave space for you to shine through
When Prime Ministers and Presidents meet each other, no-one takes along a 48 chart PowerPoint presentation - and for good reason. Don't over-cram your presentation with content. Leave space for your personality to shine through.