Don’t Hide Behind Technology

Recently I had the opportunity to train a group of executives at their headquarters in Los Angeles. Our first step was to review one of their presentations in the company’s high-tech conference room. It was a beautiful place, equipped with comfortable swivel chairs at ergonomically designed tables. It was tastefully decorated in muted colors with even more muted lighting. On stage right was a walnut lectern concealing a state-of-the-art control system, including a computer and overhead projector. Finally, the piece-de-resistance, a 15 foot rear-projection screen that could show the full range of media and be controlled either at the lectern or from the control booth. It was awe-inspiring.

The first executive prepared his audiovisuals and consulted his notes. The house lights dimmed and on came the note lights at each of our desks. The slides started and from somewhere in the darkness on the right side of the stage a disembodied voice began to speak. The slides changed smoothly in concert with “the voice”. Soon  a short, expertly produced video clip was shown. Then “the voice” and the slides started again. A few minutes later “the voice” stopped, the last picture faded and the house lights came back up. It was a slick presentation, it was a professional presentation and it was a tight presentation. But it was not a stirring presentation and it did not connect with the audience.

 

Why? Because the speaker gave up his opportunity to interact with the audience and tried to replace it with audiovisual technology. He gave up his greatest asset as a speaker — relating to the group, and instead tried to compete with other forms of media such as television and movies. As such he was destined to fail.

Don’t take me wrong. The advances in A/V technology have given us the ability to enhance our presentations and make our messages clearer. But we presenters are still the primary messengers and much of our mission is to develop a personal relationship with the audience. Here are some suggestions for doing that more effectively:

1) Be yourself. All too often a speaker will try to develop a stage persona that is different from their real personality . Usually this persona is more somber, more serious, more professional and frequently more boring. Why give yourself something else to worry about while you’re up front? Be yourself and let the audience get to know you. Realize that you are giving this presentation because of your expertise in a particular subject. Give the audience information that they can use and they will appreciate it.

 

2) Have fun. While your audience may not have come primarily to be entertained they still want to enjoy themselves during your presentation. In order for this to happen you must be able to have fun as a speaker. Be flexible, roll with the punches, acknowledge mistakes and recognize opportunities to relate to your audience. Generally they are on your side and want you to do well, but they will reflect your attitude and comfort level. Have fun and your audience will relax and enjoy themselves as well.

 

3) Personalize your comments.  Your listeners want to feel that you know who they are, if not personally, at least as a group. Some ways you can make this happen: a) Meet some people beforehand and use their names during the talk. b) Find out a few recent accomplishments of the company or organization and use them as examples. c) Play off of comments that were made by previous speakers.

 

4) Communicate with your face. Even in very large groups the participants get a great deal of information from watching our faces. Our eye contact tells them if we’re sincere; maintain eye contact with one person until you complete a thought (6 – 8 seconds) then move on. Our mouth communicates our feelings; smile more and people will think you are enjoying yourself, even if you are not. And our eyebrows show how excited we are; raise them once in a while and your audience will share your enthusiasm. So look them in the eye, raise your eyebrows and smile. Your listeners will want to hear what you have to say.

 

5) Speak their language. I gave a talk once to a group of physicians and made an unpardonable blunder. I referred to customers instead of patients! It doesn’t seem like a big mistake but it said to my audience that I didn’t know much about their profession. It put a barrier between us that I had to work hard to overcome. To keep from putting barriers between yourself and your audience you should: a) Use the right vocabulary by finding out some key terms used in that industry and incorporating them into your talk. b) Explain complex concepts through the use of stories and analogies. c) Avoid using obscure abbreviations and acronyms that can confuse those who are not in the know.

 

Incorporate these ideas into your next presentation and develop a better relationship with the audience. Then you can use A/V technology to enhance your message.

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