In a perfect work world, we’d only have to do the things we’re good at and enjoy. Introverts would be left alone to work on one-person projects, and only professional actors and PowerPoint enthusiasts would ever have to give a presentation. No surprise: we don’t live in that perfect world. But that doesn’t mean that every public speaking situation has to be a nightmare for you or your career.
What’s the secret to making presentations easier on you and on your audience? Stop thinking of them as presentations.
“There are some great presenters,” writes George Bradt at Forbes. “There are people to whom any of us would gladly pay money to let us listen to them read the phone book. The odds are that you are not one of them. I’m certainly not one of them. So, you and I should stop making presentations. Instead, we should engage in conversations with the people with whom we are communicating.”
In other words, stop speaking at your audience and start speaking with them.
To make your presentations more interactive — without falling into the trap of creating an oral exam or a pub quiz night — try the following:
1. Take regular breaks.
Bradt cites communications coach Carmine Gallo, who advises building breaks into your presentations, in order to re-engage your audience’s attention. Gallo suggests doing so every 10 minutes, and recommends everything from short videos to audience participation to second speakers as options to break things up.
2. Make the audience participation count.
Ask intriguing questions, and then be brave about enduring the silence that might (briefly) follow.
“One of the most powerful ways you can connect with your audience and begin a conversation is by asking an engaging question — and then be silent,” writes Kristin Arnold in 15 and a Half Ideas to Make Your Presentations Go From Boring to Bravo. “Wait for the answer. If you suffer the silence for one or two seconds and look like you are expecting a response, someone will answer you!”
3. Build anticipation beforehand.
“Online community tools like MeetUp and Ning, as well Twitter hashtags or a dedicated Facebook Page allow attendees to start discussions even before the event takes place,” writes Chuck Dietrich at Mashable. “As the presenter, be sure to participate in these communities by soliciting feedback on your proposed topic and networking with key contacts ahead of your presentation. Pre-presentation engagement with your audience will help you hone the subject of your talk.”
One caveat: social media interaction is better suited to big talks, not the regular Monday meeting. Also, be prepared to change course based on the feedback you receive ahead of time. The thing about starting a conversation is that you agree to relinquish some of your control over the subject matter. Listen, as well as speak, and you’ll create a presentation that’s more rewarding for all involved.
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