Talk With (Not At) Your Audience

Talk With (Not At) Your Audience

If you’re lucky enough to land yourself a public speaking gig, the last thing you want to do is waste the opportunity.

Yes, you read that right: I said you’re lucky to be offered an opportunity to give a presentation. Why? Because it means someone believes you have something important to say. Someone has chosen you to share your experiences, your insights, and your opinions on a topic that others want to learn more about. And not just anyone is asked to do that.

This is a big deal. You want to do a good spectacular job.

Oh, the 30-minute Powerpoint presentation you could show them! The statistics you could ply them with! You could stand there for hours telling them the absolute best way to achieve greatness.

Please, stop. Don’t do those things.

Keep The Conversation Going

Here’s the problem with most presentations: People spent way too much time talking AT their audience, and not nearly enough time talking WITH their audience.

Every presentation—regardless of how many people are in the audience—is a conversation. It’s a give-and-take dialogue between you and them. As it so happens, you’re the one who’s doing most of the talking and they’re the ones doing most of the listening. But it’s a conversation nonetheless, and you want to keep your audience involved; you want them to feel as though they are a part of the discussion. What you don’t want is for them to feel as though they’re on the receiving end of a lecture. (They probably don’t want that, either!)

Here’s something else to keep in mind: It doesn’t matter that you’re talking to a room full of adults, at some point their attention span is going to waver and then fall away completely—and that usually happens at the 10-minute mark. But if your audience isn’t engaged, it could be a lot less.

Forget It’s an Audience and Just Talk

There are some sure-fire ways to keep your presentation more conversational, and it’s no coincidence these tips on how to have a good conversation are the ones we always talk about at our Effective Presentation Skills workshops across the country and post about on our Facebook page and other social media channels. Here are five of them:

Talk to the Audience (Don’t Read to Them). You don’t read from notes when you talk to your friends about what you did last weekend, so why are you reading when you’re giving a presentation? People who are forced to listen to someone read a speech to them zone out—fast. This applies to Powerpoint slides, too. Powerpoint slides are meant to augment your presentation, not BE the presentation. If you need a note card to keep you on point, that’s okay. But don’t be the guy who prints out a 10-page speech and reads it at the podium. No one listens to that guy for longer than 60 seconds.

Look at Your Audience (Don’t Be Sketchy). Just as it’s important to look at people when you speak to them one on one, it’s essential for you to look at your audience when you’re giving a presentation. Eye contact is an incredibly powerful way to connect with your audience members and it makes them feel as though they are a part of the conversation. Have you ever been told to look over your audience focus on the back wall? Don’t do that. Look at people in the audience; make direct eye contact with them; smile. People who avoid eye contact come off as untrustworthy, and no one listens to someone they can’t trust.

Tell Great Stories (Don’t Spout Off Stats). No matter what your presentation is about, there’s a story out there that will make it more interesting. Facts and figures are great, but if you really want to reel your audience in, tell them a story that illustrates the point you’re trying to make. Telling people a story is way more engaging (and definitely more conversational) than rambling off stats. Stories have a way of reaching people on a emotional level. If you can connect with them there, you’ve pulled them into the conversation.

Use Appropriate Language (Don’t Overindulge). Unless you’re talking to a roomful of CPAs, no one is going to know what you’re talking about when you say things like “absorption variance” and “taxable equivalent yield.” Know your audience and speak their language. There are certainly going to be times when complex ideas require the language to match, but you don’t  need to use sophisticated words like “domestic residence” when “house” will do just fine. Remember, this is a conversation, not a contest to see how many fancy (and meaningless) words you can spout off.

Invite Them To Speak (Don’t Dominate the Conversation). In order for communication to take place, someone has to be talking and someone has to be listening. No one said it has to be YOU doing all the talking just because it’s your presentation. Invite your audience members to share their stories and ideas. Remember that not everyone is comfortable speaking in front of a group, though, so provide ways for your audience to get involved aside from standing up and asking questions. Tools like Sli.do and Blyve allow people to submit their questions with their smart phones. You set up an event code for your members to join on their phones, and then they can submit questions either anonymously or with their name during your presentation. You can create a hashtag for your presentation and set up a live tweet to invite dialogue and questions.

The next time you’re called on to give a presentation, think of ways to turn it into a conversation between you and the audience. It will be far more enjoyable for you and them. For more public speaking tips, visit our Resources page or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Google+.

6 Responses

  1. I know the best presenters I have seen are the ones who have a conversation with the audience instead of giving a pre-planned speech that was memorized.  It looks so canned. 

  2. I agree the worst presentations are where the speaker uses language you’d need a dictionary to understand. Keep it simple is a great rule of thumb!

  3. Thanks for the resources. I love the idea of assigning a hashtag for live tweeting. Very good information.

  4. I hate sitting through presentations where the speaker assumes the audience knows as much as he or she does. When the language is too jargon-y, I tend to tune out.

  5. I find presentations where the speaker invites people in the audience to speak more interesting. A lot of the questions are ones everyone has, so it’s nice to hear those get addressed.

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