Know what you want to say, know your audience and then adapt the content of your message to that audience in order to communicate your objective. And along the way, make sure to leave your ego at the door.
Having attended many conferences and listened to many lectures, I have learned that anyone who wishes to deliver a speech should bear these tenants in mind before preparing to get up in front of any audience, regardless of its size or importance.
Unfortunately, many people believe that getting and keeping the attention of a large audience is a gift that one is born with instead of believing that anyone can acquire it if he/she makes the effort to learn how to do it. We all know how dull it is to remain seated in our chairs listening to presentation after presentation all the while thinking about lunch or the next coffee break.
Anyone who has sat through such presentations comes to question whether there is any real point to the activity or whether it is simply a waste of time. For that reason, I would encourage all of you to put yourselves into the shoes of your captive audience the next time you are called on to prepare a presentation for a small or large group of peers, colleagues or employees and make an effort to make what you have to say as fascinating and memorable as possible.
We live in the age of Attention Deficit Disorder. Moreover, the quantity of information we are subjected to is inversely proportional to the quality. As a [b]result most of us are very selective when it comes to what we focus on and what we actually absorb.
However, presentations and lectures are a necessary communication medium in business today. There are few better ways to communicate our goals and objectives to a broad audience. Knowing that, and knowing how painfully tedious many presentations can be, I suggest that you put some time and consideration in making your next presentation into something that will motivate people to sit up, take notice and remember what you had to say when you do leave the podium.
Be an engaging speaker
Most people in the audience are as busy and self-absorbed as you are, which makes the task of getting their attention and engaging them your biggest challenge. But if you keep in mind that you are there for their benefit and not your own and if you tell them what they want to hear, the majority of the people will pay attention. In short, any presentation you give should be focused on meeting the audience’s needs and expectations rather than your own.
Here are a few suggestions on how to become a more engaging speaker.
Rule #1: It’s all about them, not you!
Before you take to the stage (or even enter the building), make sure to leave your ego at the door. Your objective should not be to show how smart or educated you are but to share your knowledge and experience with others. What may be interesting to you or I can often be very boring or irrelevant to others. While preparing your speech, ask yourself what the audience wants and needs to hear instead of focusing on what you want to say.
Rule #2: Are you giving too much detail?
It is also extremely important to remember that your audience does not have the same level of knowledge about your subject as you do. Therefore, only include as much detail as you think is relevant. In other words, present your ideas in a way that anyone listening can understand and relate to. Presentations are not meant to detail the intricacies of your current project or initiative, but should instead provide listeners with a concrete general overview. And for those who want to delve into the nitty-gritty of the topic, don’t hesitate to mention that you will be available after the presentation to answer their questions or suggest that they send you an email with their questions.
Rule #3: Is it useful?
Your audience expects that the information presented to them be above all useful, either for their current jobs and responsibilities or in future endeavors. Otherwise, they won’t feel motivated to pay attention to you. Each piece of information you intend to include in your presentation should serve a purpose and be relevant to those listening. If you know your audience (and you definitely should), you need to make sure that what you’re going to communicate is useful and relevant to as many people as possible. Otherwise you could be putting people to sleep sooner than you like.
The right packaging
As with all effective communication, form is often just as important as content. In other words, the way you deliver your message is as essential to keeping your audience’s attention as the message itself.
Packaging your presentation in a form that can be heard, understood and accepted by your audience depends very much on your presentation skills, your ease in front of a large group of people and the brevity and the simplicity of what you have to say.
Can you hear me?
Your message has to be audible, meaning people need to be able to hear you. To ensure that your audience hears what you have to say, make sure to speak in a confident, clear voice and make sure to pay attention to your pronunciation and articulation.
Can you see me?
An audience is more inclined to listen and focus on your message when it is delivered in a relaxed manner. Remember that much of a speaker’s credibility comes from his or her ability to control body language, to appear calm and confident and to avoid looking anxious or under stress.
Can you understand me?
Your message has to be understandable. A short, clear and simple message is always easier to understand than a rhetorical or longwinded one. The success of your presentation will depend on your keeping it short, succinct and accessible to everyone as very few people have the patience to wade through long tirades before getting to the main point. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt used to say about speechmaking “Be sincere, be brief, be seated”.
The best strategy to capture and hold the interest and attention of an audience is to design your presentation or communication strategy with a genuine interest in the people you are trying to reach out to.
With practice, you will hone your presentation skills and grab people’s attention through your ability to shift the focus of your subject not on yourself, but on those you are speaking to. This is a fundamental aspect to the art of effective communication.
As our success depends on this ability to communicate effectively, your mantra when giving presentation to audiences large or small should be: “It is not about me; it is all about you”.
Being able to understand and meet the needs and interests of your audience rather than your own, will give you the confidence to take your place at the podium and say “Can I Have Your Attention Please!”
Originally published in Prague Leaders Magazine.