The Proper Perspective for Powerful Presentations

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There I was, presenting to a group of young managers. I had the data, the experience, and the forum to make my points about customer satisfaction. And as I looked out at my audience, I noticed …

Well, mostly I saw that they were bored. Some looked upset that I was wasting their time. When they walked out afterwards I got a few mumbled “thank you’s” and nothing else. Almost no one made eye contact with me.

Sure enough, the evals were brutal. I’d tanked. Big time.

That was my lowest point as a speaker. But today I’m grateful for the experience because it taught me the truth of the phrase, “They don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

My audience didn’t think I cared about them. So they tuned me out. (That is, the ones who weren’t actively angry at me!) Since then, I’ve learned that powerful presentations don’t begin in your head – they come from your heart.

Be the Host First and the Expert Second

As a presenter, you find success – and make strong connections – when you play the role of the gracious host. This is true even when you’re a guest speaker at someone else’s event. You’re always the host of your own presentation.

Unfortunately, our insecurity can make us try too hard to impress. As I learned, the more we try to impress, the less we connect. Or to put it another way, the more we boast, the less we host.

Just imagine I threw a party and greeted my guests like this:

  • Let me tell you about how much I know. If we have some time at the end maybe some of you can share your stories too.
  • Although I’ll be the one doing most of the talking, I want this to be interactive. So don’t hesitate to ask me questions. Just raise your hand and wait until I call on you.
  • I know this conversation can be kind of dry, but it’s important, so listen up. I’ll try to get through it as quickly as possible.

You’re probably not coming to too many of my parties, right? And if I come through that way as a presenter, you won’t come to too many of my sessions, either!

Five Techniques for More Impactful Presentations

The good news is that you can boost your presentation skills without taking a public speaking course. Here are five things you can do:

  1. Prepare. You wouldn’t host a party without some preparation, right? So don’t ever try to wing a presentation. Do at least one walk-through before presenting. If the stakes are high, do a lot of rehearsal. At a minimum, know your presentation well enough so that you don’t have to read the slides.
  2. Ask questions to get the audience talking. A good host doesn’t do all the talking. Similarly, a good presenter makes the session conversational. Don’t wait for the audience to ask questions. Your first few minutes set the tone, so ask questions early and often. If you have a large audience, break them into small groups to discuss their answers. That way, everyone gets a chance to talk.
  3. Don’t brag on yourself. Sure, some hosts love to show off their houses. These generally aren’t the people whose parties we enjoy attending. It’s the same with speakers. There’s a time and place to build credibility, but do so after you’ve connected with your audience. So …
  4. Talk about your failures before you share your successes. People don’t care where you went to school or what jobs you’ve held in the past. But they are drawn in by self-deprecating – though not self-hating – stories. If you start your presentation by explaining how you were the youngest VP at your last company, you’ll come across as arrogant. When you tell the story of being the youngest VP and feeling completely over your head until a mentor took you under his wings, you come across as humble – and still establish your credibility.
  5. Keep the conversation rolling. Don’t go more than a few minutes without some audience interaction. Whenever possible, call on people by name, as you would at a party. Just be careful not to surprise anyone when they are distracted. And don’t ask questions that they might not be able to answer.

To be sure, there’s a lot more to powerful presenting than the tips I’ve shared above. But if you come across as friendly and gracious, you’ll connect with your audience.

So, to earn the toast, play the host.

 (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

2 Responses

  1. Jani Jackson
    | Reply

    I think these are excellent tips, Lance! I especially like #4. It requires you to be vulnerable to share your failures and challenges – which in turn gives your audience “permission” to be vulnerable as well, and open to learning.
    Thanks for this post!

    • Lance
      | Reply

      Thanks for the kind words, Jani. Public speaking in and of itself makes us feel vulnerable, so our natural reaction is to justify our expertise. But that approach doesn’t serve our audience – and it really doesn’t serve us as speakers either.

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