For some, the thought of speaking in front of an audience is their greatest fear. According to some surveys, 75% of Americans’ number one fear is public speaking, outranking the fear of dying. Admittedly, public speaking can be nerve-racking for even the most experienced speaker, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Confidence can be built by practicing and perfecting the art of presentation using three key strategies: enthusiasm, conciseness, and reading the room.
Number one, be enthusiastic. We’ve all sat through (and dread) a lecture or presentation where the presenter has shown little to no emotion toward what they are speaking about. In such a circumstance as a listener, it is easy for our minds to wander, making it very difficult to stay engaged. This is important to note, because as a speaker, you should remember the importance of enthusiasm to the listener. Enthusiasm positively impacts the experience of the listener, but it can also help you to develop confidence in your ability as a speaker. It’s normal to doubt yourself or to be nervous about presenting an idea, but it is imperative to remember that you are presenting your ideas to help someone. Helping is a reason to be excited and you should try to keep this in mind during any presentation. You’re there to make a difference in your client’s business, in their career, and in their life. Changing your mindset and presenting with enthusiasm can increase the influence left on the audience, but you still must get your point across. This brings us to the second key: be concise.
Think about a time when you might have daydreamed during a presentation. How long did it take for you to refocus? There’s disagreement on what the average attention span is, but we can all agree that there is a limit. As a speaker, this factor should absolutely be considered to ensure your audience leaves with the message you are hoping to get across. With that said, your audience’s attention span shouldn’t be the sole driver of the success of your presentation. An effective presenter can hold their audience’s attention with enthusiasm and brevity, but many of the world’s leading public speakers are attempting to keep their presentations under 18 minutes in length. Why? Well, it is important that your audience or client is quickly given the information that they came to hear. Your client does not want to hear you go on and on, they want you to get to the point so that they can start to formulate opinions and responses. When we fail to be concise, we lose our audience’s engagement. Get to the point and if your audience needs you to elaborate, they’ll show it.
Finally, know your audience and read the room. The most effective speakers develop an understanding of their audience to build presentations that cater to what the audience cares about. This is key to determining the amount technical detail and level of context that needs to be provided in the presentation. With that said, presentations are not one-size-fits-all, and there will be times that you find yourself presenting to an audience with varied skill levels, experience, technical knowledge, or contextual understanding. In this instance, you will need to read the room. If you can tell the audience are not grasping the concept, try rephrasing or reframing the way you present the idea. On the other hand, if they seem to not be engaged due to the simplicity of the material, move on, and try to facilitate a discussion. There is no right or wrong here (after all, this is an art) so stay in-tune with your audience and trust your intuition. Keep in mind that everyone learns differently, including yourself.
You may follow all three themes, but that does not ensure your ideas will always resonate with their audience. People learn in different ways and have varying preferences for how they digest information and new ideas. A final, bonus recommendation, which accompanies the three themes, is to present your ideas in a manner that follows a story. Stories are relatable, memorable, and are a great tool to keep your audience engaged, increasing the likelihood of your idea resonating with them.
With all that said, your idea may not be the right one, but that does not matter. The goal of using the three themes and a good story in presenting an idea is not necessarily to attain buy-in (though that would be nice), it’s to provide information that facilitates decision-making. Mastering these three themes will make you a more effective presenter and speaker, which is one of, if not the most, important skill in a consultant’s toolbox.
Written by: Dean McMann
About the Author: Dean McMann is a Founding Partner at McMann & Ransford with 35+ years of experience in consulting and professional services. He is a sought-after expert and speaker on topics of: B2B differentiation, professional services best practices, and overcoming commoditization. In addition to his extensive experience in the Professional Services space, Dean also serves on the board of various non-profit organizations.