A presentation is essentially the building of a relationship with lots of people all at once.
I’m slightly embarrassed to admit then when I used to present I'd spend the majority of my time thinking about me! I’d worry about being the centre of attention; about making mistakes, about whether I knew my material enough and whether I really was good enough to be presenting in the first place.
I probably spent less than 20% of my time thinking about the actual people that really mattered. The audience. Now almost all of my attention is focused on the audience and how I can create an environment which allows them to hear what I'm saying and to think for themselves.
The following are 10 things I wish I'd known 20 years ago when I stated presenting to people:
1. It’s really hard for an audience to pay attention for too long. People will remember the stories, a few key points and my presence. So, I focus on having only 1 key message with up to 3 supporting points which are then illustrated and brought to life with 1-2 personal stories to illustrate each point. That’s it. I tell them early on why I care about what I’m talking about and why I believe it’s worth sharing. I speak from my heart.
2. Connection is far more important than perfection. What people find most compelling is vulnerability, authenticity and emotion. They will connect far more with my journey and my stories. It doesn’t need to be seamless. In fact seamless and perfect are pretty dull.
3. It’s important to be at ease, to stand in silence for a short moment before I begin so I can start to connect with people.
4.I need to know I’ve prepared well. For me that means practising. I practice until I’ve internalised my key message and supporting stories so on the day I know I’ll deliver these clearly and confidently and without notes. If in any doubt I practice more. I practice standing up and I talk out loud. For important presentations I record myself and listen back to make sure I’m emphasising the main points and that the flow of the talk is clear.
5. I think audiences are generally very forgiving. They want to learn something or be inspired to think differently. They’re hoping for a nugget of wisdom that might change how they think or what they do. There are a few things though that they won’t and shouldn’t forgive, these include being unprepared; not having the technology sorted and tested or not knowing enough about them to pitch my message at the right level.
6. I don’t need to be better than my audience, or think of myself as worse than them. I can champion their brilliance at the same time as sharing what I’ve learnt on my journey so far. The roles of both listener and presenter are critical during a presentation and the more equal we all feel the better the presentation will go, for us all.
7. I plan for a good finish, to leave with a clear call to action – what do I want them to do , or think differently after my talk has finished?
8. Power posing does seem to work for me as does remembering to breathe!
9. I use Power point or flip charts as visual mediums only. I might use a small number of pictures, short videos or music to illustrate a key message or story. I use as few words as possible (if any) and I make sure that using these does not break my connection with the audience and does not distract from my messaging.
10. I open and close my talk with a few words of sincere, specific and succinct appreciation for being given the time I have to connect with this specific group of people. It's a privilege and one I'm deeply grateful for each time I get the opportunity.
So, what are you assuming that would stop you from speaking with authenticity and vulnerability? I'd love to know....