By Matthew Hill
What is the worst case presentation scenario you can imagine? Your audience are pointing and laughing at you as if you are tied up in the stocks getting hit by rotten vegetables!
Ironically, whilst this is one of the top ranked human fears, audiences actually want you to win.
They are happy if you enjoy the show. It means that they can too. They want you to be witty, charming and intelligent. They want you to have a good time and to give them a great time.
Where that phobia becomes relevant is not in the presentation – the trap lies in the preparation of your presentation.
In this post we will explore a couple of differences between myth and truth when it comes to giving confident presentations and getting applause and action at the end of your show.
1. Too many wires – The quickest way to lose an audience is to mess up at the beginning. Your computer is off and it takes 3 minutes to get the slides moving; you haven't got the charger wire or adapter and you run out of juice halfway through; you forget your main prop or visual demonstration aid and only remember during the show (this happened to me last summer in front of 300 professionals…); you stumble up the stairs as you take your position on stage; the audio track on your film clip is too soft for people to hear; the lights are so bright no one can see the screen; there is a distracting and irritating noise outside your room; you rushed to get dressed in the morning and your buttons are misaligned or you fail to notice the huge gunshot wound of strawberry jam slowly sliding down your tie.
All these things have happened. And all these things are preventable. Perfect Preparation Prevents pathetically poor performance – this is the 6P truth. Having a laminated list of 20 things that you must check, like a fighter pilot before takeoff, will make you 20 times more reliable. And trust me, it can happen to the best or the most experienced presenters. Versions of all the above have happened to myself and many great speakers. My mistake for many years was to have only a mental list – not so reliable. I now have a card-based list and check through before a presentation as if my reputation depends upon it.
2. Remember or take action? – It is easy to forget that there are different and sometimes competing outcomes that you can go for. Do you want your audience to laugh? Do you want your audience to remember something? Do you want your audience to be emotionally moved? Do you want your audience to consider change? Do you want your audience to take action?
Please feel free to ask these questions now. If the objective is to have your audience retain information you may emphasise key points with repetition, deploy a handy pneumonic, or tell a story, possibly involving a celebrity.
If you wish them to take action you may build up your ”cost of not” argument, the consequences of ignoring your talk and the diabolical future that the audience will then face.
The best example of this I've ever seen for promoting action occurred when I was MC at an awards ceremony in London. One of the prize winners came from a medical company. He came on stage and his acceptance speech started with a question, “How many of you have diabetes at the moment?” Before everyone had had time to feel fear or more than a few brave souls had put their hands up he interrupted the process, “Oh well. It doesn't really matter. In 10 years time most of you will get it!” Stunned silence. But we were totally ready for what he said next and were actively attending to any words approximating to a cure and help for our imminent health crisis.
If you want your crowd to apply your wisdom – then “monkey see, monkey do” is a good way to achieve this. This can be with a live demonstration or a film with commentary. A verbal description of physical action is less powerful and more ambiguous than an accurate depiction of the physical act itself.
Think about the outcome and adjust your presentation accordingly.
3. Mind your language – in other posts we have made it clear that speedy delivery is less of a problem than most presentation trainers acknowledge. If you are fast but fluent this will probably be perceived by your audience as you being intelligent and an expert. The exception to this is in sales part of your pitch, when speed is taken as a sign of nervous deception.
Accent is an interesting one. When you're watching British TV have you noticed how many advertisements have a Scottish actor’s voice. Apparently this is the most attractive and credible accident for selling products in the UK. Similarly any brand from Yorkshire has a thick brown Yorkshire accident that naturally promotes the consumption of tea, cakes and beer.
Other accents have historically caused a problem. In the UK, the Birmingham accent does not always promote credibility and confidence. If you have a pronounced regional or country accent, it is best to draw attention to this early on and get the subject out of the way. Otherwise the audience will spend more time analysing your geographical origins then listening to your message.
Swearing is another counterintuitive phenomena in presentation. One of the most successful presenters of all time is Tony Robbins. He is famous for dropping the F bomb during his 50 hour seminars. It does not seem to have done him any harm. He has the world record for the largest ever one-speaker event – I know, I was there. With a charismatic speaker, swearing is perceived as passion – the presenter losing themselves in their authentic content.
4. You lost me at blah blah blah – if you made a graph of attention over time the average audience low ill happen after about 10 minutes of chat. There is a little miracle that clever presenters use to restore energy and concentration in the audience. They segment the presentation, however long or short, into parts that each contain a clear start, middle and finish. When you telegraph part 2 is coming up or you are approaching the end of the 3rd section, your audience will look up from their iPhones and wait for a summary, a conclusion or a punch line. They will also be ready to absorb the next sentence that will tell them whether they should listen to your new section or go back to texting their friends.
Related to this is the helicopter or microscope. Deductive thinkers will want context and atomic detail before they “buy” you, whilst holistic experiencers will enjoy a high altitude overview of your topic to become engaged. Obviously you will have a mixture of types within your audience and so moving from high-level to detailed and back again is a great way to include everybody sat in front of you.
5. Fake it until you make it – as stated, the audience wants you to be successful. They will enjoy the show if you look like you are enjoying it too. When you think about it that’s wonderful. You are not going to the Coliseum as a gladiator performing in front of a cynical and bloodthirsty crowd that want you to come to a sticky end. An audience wants to be entertained, informed and moved emotionally. That's all you have to do.
It starts with you coming on stage as if you mean it, looking good and smelling good, and getting your first sentence right. Apart from practice, practice and more practice this is about banishing your self limiting beliefs, putting yourself in a peak emotional and mental state and truly believing in what you are speaking about.
One of the best tricks I know for boosting presentation confidence is to give your presentation to someone cynical and asked them to pitch you with difficult questions. If you can defend your case whilst maintaining your cool think how this will benefit you in your actual presentation. You will feel calm because you know you have a water tight defence…and in the Q&A session at the end you know you are more than ready.
I hope this three-part series has been of help to you. Please now go and apply the science and wisdom of presentations to your next show. Maybe, this time, they will give you the standing ovation that you richly deserve.
Matthew Hill is a Trainer, Author and Coach working with international audiences to help them uncover their deeper potential and shine in public.