Having been an active member of various Toastmasters International clubs for almost twenty years, I tend to notice presentation style when I am at workshops by experts on assorted topics. Experts in their topic they may be, but not all have become expert presenters. Frequently I love the information they provide. It is often useful to me in my business and I take careful notes. However, the way in which it is presented sometimes drives me nuts. Some suggestions that may help grow your connection with your audience…
1. Remember your entire audience. It is important that no one feel left out. If your audience is spread widely, either horizontally or vertically from where you are standing, this may be difficult. If many are active, you may not be able to answer questions from everyone. However, if you focus most of your responses on people in just one part of the room, or just one table, it will be noticed by those to whom you appear not to be paying attention. When seeking or responding to questions or comments, try to move your focus from one area to the next, and so cover the entire room.
2. The same thing applies to eye contact. Some speakers do not like to move toward the back of a room because it means they have their backs to some of the audience. Nonetheless, find a way to give those far-away people some attention. Those at the back – or to your far left or right – have as much right to learn from and connect with you as do those nearest to you, or those with whom you already have connections.
3. When questions are asked, repeat the gist of them before answering. It is quite likely that people far from the speaker will not have been able to hear them and so may not understand the context of your answer.
4. When a team is presenting, try not to interrupt your colleagues. It appears rude, and as though you think you are more important than those you are interrupting. Perhaps you are, but now is not the time to emphasize that.
5. Mostly for males, try not put your hands in your pockets, no matter how nervous you are. According to body language folk, this actually makes you look more nervous, unsure of yourself, and possibly unprepared – not the image that most presenters want to convey. (“Mostly for males” simply because females rarely – if ever – adopt the hands-in-pocket stance when presenting.)
6. While on the topic of gender differences, it is generally advised that men should button their jackets when standing before an audience, although not necessarily when sitting. I have seen it suggested as a sign of respect for the audience, but a more practical explanation can be found in Forbes Magazine’s “To button or not to button..”
7. Respect your audience’s time. If there is a time limit on the presentation, work to it. People in the audience may have scheduled appointments back-to-back with your presentation. To overstep the time limit is to imply that you think the knowledge you are imparting is more important that than other people’s time. Perhaps it is, but that is not for you to be the judge.
8. Be sure that the members of the audience know who you are and what organization you represent. I should probably have emphasized this at the beginning of this list. How can they get in touch with you? Most presenters provide a handout, or at least business cards. Some, however, do not. Perhaps they assume that everyone has heard of them, and is familiar with what they do. Unless you really are a nationally known figure, do not be that person. Before you finish, make sure that people in your audience know how to contact you if they wish to.
Should you expect your presentations to be perfect? Probably not but that does not mean you should not give them to the best of your ability. If you have useful information to share, then share it. Are my presentations perfect? Absolutely not! I’m still working on it, and I think I always will be. But I really hope that, next time I am asked to present, I will remember these points, regardless of the size and shape of the available space. And, of course, that the next time I am in the audience, they will all be covered.