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Though many people have a fear of public speaking, many more still recognize the immense value in solid presentation skills. Being able to command attention and deliver a persuasive message can help you land a job promotion, reach your sales quota, influence important C-level decision makers and be seen as a leader within your industry.
But as important as presentations skills are, many public speakers, both new and seasoned, tend to make the same mistakes.
If we’re going to discuss a presentation success formula, we’ve got to first tackle some of the biggest public speaking mistakes that guarantee your presentation is unsuccessful. Are you guilty of any of these?
We’ve all seen those presenters who make it look so effortless. Steve Jobs was like that. He seemed to glide onto the stage, open his mouth and instantly captivate everyone.
But the truth is, even Steve Jobs had to prepare.
Thoughtful preparation is essential for any level of public speaker. Doing the work ahead of time will not only help you feel and sound more confident, it will ensure you deliver the right message to the right audience.
Beyond being comfortable with your material, you must be comfortable in your own body. Have you seen presenters who just stand in one spot and barely move at all? While they’re not very good at exciting their audience, they do have a keen knack for lulling listeners to sleep.
Granted, there may be those rare situations where, because of a lack of robust technology, you have no choice but to stand behind a podium. But even then, be sure to use gestures to punctuate your message. Gestures communicate on a level that words don’t. Don’t be flamboyant but try and use natural gestures as much as you can – you’ll seem human instead of machine-like.
And, when technology does allow you free movement, by all means move around that stage. Steve Jobs was great with using movement purposefully during his presentations.
We can’t talk about body language and not mention one of the biggest mistakes that many speakers make, and that is avoiding eye contact. How many presentations have you seen where the speaker spent the entire time staring at her notes or PowerPoint presentation? How did you feel? Perhaps invisible?
Meeting a person’s gaze establishes a real connection and keeps listeners engaged. If you audience is small enough, try to make eye contact with everyone at least once. If the audience is too large, do your best to scan each section of the audience, landing on a few people. This will give everyone a general impression that you are doing your best to connect.
If there is one no-no a presenter can make, this is it.
You should think of your presentation as a delicious meal you have painstakingly prepared for your guests. What do you remember most about a great meal? If you’re like most people, you remember the appetizers and the dessert – everything in between is kind of a good-tasting blur.
When you begin and end your presentation strong, you gain the audience’s attention quickly and leave a positive and lasting impression. These are two skills that cannot be emphasized enough.
Let’s look at some of the ways you can ensure you start your presentation strong:
According to bestselling author, Malcolm Gladwell, in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, "Snap judgments are ... enormously quick: they rely on the thinnest slices of experience."
In other words: first impressions are real, and they happen really quickly. Think about those presentations you have sat in the audience for. How quickly did you sum a presenter up when they took the stage? Did you judge them on their posture? What they were wearing? How they addressed the audience? What their voice sounded like? Most likely, you took all of these factors into account and quickly decided whether you were going to give them your full attention or think about what you should make for dinner.
As a presenter, you must understand that your audience members will make a snap decision about you within the first few moments after taking that stage. Your job at the very beginning of your presentation is to grab their attention.
Here are some ways you can start your presentation strong.
Imagine being in the audience when a presenter opens his mouth and the first words out are, “When I’ve finished here today, you will have the knowledge to increase your revenue by 200% this year.” Um… would you sit forward in your chair and listen to every single word? You bet you would!
You have been asked to speak because you are an expert in your field and have valuable information to share. So why be shy about it? Start your presentation with a bold claim, and then overdeliver.
Another powerful way to grab attention right up top is to contradict audience expectations. Some people refer to this as "applied unpredictability principle."
Giving people what they expect is not very exciting. Imagine a roller coaster that had no sudden drops or turns. It wouldn’t thrill you. Well the same can be said for presentations. The unexpected hooks the audience instantly.
Here’s an example. Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, starts off her presentation by scanning the audience and then saying, “Okay, I don’t want to alarm anybody in this room, but it’s just come to my attention that the person to your right is a liar! Also the person to your left is a liar.”
Well, the audience laughs, getting her intended joke, but you can tell that this unexpected statement has hooked them, and they are ready to give their full attention.
Humans like to have their curiosity piqued. We love the feeling of being presented with information that makes us curious and wonder about something. Research actually shows that curiosity prepares our brain to learn something new. How does it do this?
Well, when we are curious about something, we give that something our full attention. We look for clues and assess situations. This is how we operate and it’s how our ancestors stayed alive.
If you want to grab the audience’s attention right off the bat, ask a question or pose an idea that piques their curiosity. You’ll see many Ted Talk presenters do this by “confessing” they have to share a secret or an apology.
“I need to make a confession, at the outset here. A little over 20 years ago, I did something that I regret. Something that I am not particularly proud of. Something that in many ways I wished no one would ever know, but that here I feel kind of obliged to reveal. In the late 1980s, in a moment of youthful indiscretion, I went to law school.”
The minute someone says they have something to confess, we HAVE to know what it is, and so we are forced to pay attention.
This technique is an oldie but a goodie. By posing a thoughtful question to your audience, their brain is forced to THINK about the answer. You have engaged them from second one. The key is to make the question one that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no, but rather one that plants the seed of an idea.
“What scares you the most?”
“How do human beings constantly reach goals we all believe can never be reached?”
“When was the last time you allowed yourself to feel powerful?”
“When I was nine, I met a homeless man who said he could see my entire future. He told me that when I turned 12, I would die. And I did.”
Okay, I am FULLY listening.
Stories are powerful. The human brain seems to have been wired to listen to stories. No matter how old we get, when someone starts to tell us a story, we instantly become 5-years-old, wide-eyed, ready to go on an adventure.
The story you tell can be personal or professional, just make sure it ties into your overall message.
There’s no question grabbing your audience’s attention at the very beginning of your presentation is important. But how you end can make all the difference in your presentation’s overall impact.
Here are some ways to ensure you end powerfully:
You’ve just spent 20-30 minutes wowing your audience and now you’re going to let your presentation fizzle out with a Q&A? Beyond the fact that you are never in full control of what questions you will be asked, Q&As are just not memorable.
So how to end a presentation with a bang? It is better to take questions throughout the presentation. This way the questions asked are relevant to the particular information being shared and you can ensure your audience is keeping up with you.
If you have been forced to structure your presentation so that questions are taken at the end, make sure to allow yourself a minute or two after the Q&A to end with your final takeaways and messages of inspiration.
Sometimes, if you can’t find the perfect words to end with, use someone else’s words.
“Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.” –Charles Swindoll
“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” –John Lennon
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” –Steve Jobs
These are pretty powerful words, no?
If you’re a business owner, the primary purpose of your presentation is to inspire the audience to action. Don’t assume they will take it, move them to it. Use powerful words that are definitive and instructional. Calls to action like “Begin the journey” or “Join the fight” or “Donate today” are to the point and let the audience know what you hope they do.
If opening with a compelling story works, there’s a very good chance that closing with one will as well. While a story at the beginning was an effective lead-in to your message, a story at the end can creatively sum up the information you have shared.
A word of caution: don’t end with a case study. Many business owners do this. Case studies are great for the middle of your presentation. But for the end you want a meaningful story that affects your audience emotionally and causes them to remember your message for a long, long time.
Your audience will appreciate some form of summation at the end that will act as a linear representation of what they’ve just heard. There is a simple summary formula that many professional speakers use:
You can simply say something like, “Before I leave you with my final thoughts about XYZ, let me briefly restate my main takeaways…” Don’t just list your key points but show the audience how each links to the other points.
Giving a successful presentation takes a lot of work and commitment. By creating a powerful opening and closing, you will ensure that your message is not only fully received but impactful as well.
Which of these expert tips on how to end a presentation have you tried lately or plan on using in your upcoming talk? Let us know in the comments section below.
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