Presentations

by Steve Roche

The delivery

You never get a second opportunity to make a first impression.

Anon

A key skill with presenting is to establish a good relationship with your audience as early as possible. Many skilled presenters ensure that they are in the room early so that they can introduce themselves to as many of the audience as possible before they even start the presentation.

This is especially true in presenting. People will be having responses and making judgements in the first few seconds. So make a good start.

Establishing the relationship

A great way to do this is by using pacing and rapport. For more on these see Pacing and also the topic on Rapport.

Pace the audience’s experience:

  • As we are gathered in this magnificent hall this morning...
  • Many of you have had difficult journeys to get here this evening...
  • This is a very significant day for all of us...

Use universals, in other words comments that are obviously true:

  • The sun is casting patterns on the wall opposite...
  • Here we are in this room in Nottingham at 10.00 on a Tuesday morning...
  • It’s a cold day and some of you may be struggling to keep warm...

The effect will be to get your audience to begin agreeing with you, so continue in this vein:

  • Some of you will be familiar with this subject, and some of you may be newer to it.

A statement such as this is bound to be true. If it is delivered with a friendly smile and a nod, you will find people smiling and nodding back – they are beginning to feel that you understand them, even that you care about them.

Move on to address their practical concerns:

  • My topic today is managing penguins. My name is Chris Bloggs. As head keeper at this Zoo, I have 20 years’ experience with penguins. The new information I’m sharing with you today will help you in your work as zoo guides.
  • I will be talking for around twenty minutes, then there will be time for your questions. The main points of this talk are summarised on the fact sheets, which are on the table at the back of the room.

In a few sentences you have told them everything they need to know – what you are talking about, who you are and how you are qualified, why they need to listen, how long it will be, what to do about questions and note-taking.

And all this takes less than thirty seconds to say. For a longer talk on a meatier subject you may need a little more time, but the principle remains the same. You can do all this and be only a minute or two into your time – and you will have an audience completely on your side, ready and willing to listen.

Good ways to begin

A joke or an amusing quotation can offer a quick way of relaxing an audience. But make sure it is relevant, and if you are not good at jokes, don’t go there. (see Humour)

Another good way to begin is to use a true anecdote, for example a human interest story that introduces your main point. (see Storytelling)

It also helps if you can involve the audience: ask questions, ask for experiences or for a show of hands. This can help you relax and gets them involved at the same time, so that you are all in it together.

Three don’ts

  • Don’t apologise for being an inexperienced speaker (they’ll work it out soon enough). Anyway, you’re probably better than you think. Most of us are.
  • Don’t tell them you are nervous. It probably doesn’t show much. Anyway, most speakers are nervous for the first few moments.
  • Instead of beginning with ‘I’m going to talk about... ’, consider using one of the methods above to establish rapport.

A sense of communication

All Fords are exactly alike, but no two people are just alike.

Henry Ford

The audience must feel that your message comes straight from the heart. They want you to speak as directly as if you were talking to each of them in conversation (though you do need to use much more energy in talking to forty people than to one).

Your greatest asset as a presenter is your individuality. Cherish and develop it: it will put force and sincerity into your speaking.

If you find yourself sounding stilted, pick someone in the audience and talk directly to them, converse with them, imagine you are answering their question. You can actually ask and then answer questions:

Example

And you ask what proof I have for this assertion?

I have ample proof and here it is...

This can be done naturally and will make your delivery direct and conversational.

Bottom line

If someone is so absorbed in what they have to say, so eager to get their message across that they forget themselves and talk and act spontaneously, then their gestures and delivery are likely to be beyond criticism.

...try walking up to someone and knocking them down. When they get to their feet, you will probably find the talk they deliver will be flawless in its eloquence.

Dale Carnegie

Body language

Note

These findings apply only to face-to-face communication about feelings or attitude. This doesn’t stop countless trainers quoting it as a fact to prove that words count for very little.

Famous research by Albert Mehrabian showed that the impact and perceived truth of any communication comes mostly from body language, followed by voice quality, with the actual words a poor third.

The important point, however, is this: when these three aspects reinforce each other, the communication is congruent.

Body language key points

If there is a discrepancy between words and body language, it’s the non-verbal part of the communication that the listener will attend to, so make sure your body language tells the right story.

  • Make your appearance appropriate to the presentation.
  • Make good eye contact with the audience.
  • Adopt a natural, upright posture.
  • To keep gestures natural, eliminate the unnecessary and nervous ones.
  • Take all the physical space you want.

See more on this in the topic on Body Language.

Developing presence

Performing artists of all kinds often seem to have a larger-than-life presence when they are on stage. Expanding your visual field helps to expand your sense of personal space, and thus develop presence.

Stress – the fight/flight response – affects the way we use our eyes. The pupils dilate, leading to a tunnelling of vision. Together with tension in the neck and shoulders, this can lead to the presenter locking on to certain members of the audience (perceived friends or foes), leaving the rest feeling neglected.

Changing the way you use your eyes will calm you and at the same time will have a positive influence on the way the audience sees you.

  • Practise a broad visual sweep of the eyes. This allows you to take in the whole audience and enhances your presence.
  • Make soft and personal eye contact with individuals, to create a feeling of approachability.
  • Use peripheral vision – it’s closely connected to our sense of movement and orientation in space.

What is peripheral vision?

It’s our ability to see beyond our normal conscious point of focus. It works a bit like an optical unconscious mind. We generally ignore or delete a lot of potential information coming to us through peripheral vision.

Most interactive activities, such as athletics, dancing or driving a car, require substantial use of peripheral vision. The soft focus associated with peripheral vision helps you to settle in to the environment, to become sensitive to subtle cues and to build relationships with your audience.

How to develop peripheral vision

Link your hands at arm’s length in front of your face. While looking straight ahead, move your hands apart and out to the sides until they just disappear from the edges of your vision. Move them in and out of the edges a few times.

Bring them to rest, fully extended (as if ready for a big hug) and just inside your field of peripheral vision. Be aware of the big hemisphere of your vision in front, to the left and right, above and below.

Keep your sense of this hemisphere as you bring your arms down. Be aware of just how much you can see in your peripheral vision.

You might also like to try this exercise.

Using anchoring

When you are presenting, you will often want your audience to learn something. A good way to crystallise and transfer learning is with anchors.

Anchoring involves establishing an association between an external cue or stimulus and an internal experience or state. Anchoring cues can help to transfer learnings to other states. Presenters may use anchors to re-access states in themselves as well as in their audience. (see What is anchoring?)

Types of anchor:

  • Stimuli – voice tone, gestures, locations, key words
  • Symbols – metaphors, slogans
  • Universals – analogies, common experiences.

The cue that is used as an anchor may be verbal, non-verbal, physical or symbolic. It is often useful to pre-plan the cues to be used as anchors, perhaps using common objects from the working environment.

Some anchoring is learned culturally and is part of what we do automatically, for example:

  • Banging the fist in the hand for emphasis
  • Moving or pointing to a flipchart
  • Getting up, sitting down, going quiet or silent
  • Moving to a different position.

An anchor can be as simple and explicit as just saying, ‘Now we come to a really important point.’

A joke is usually an anchor to a happy state – and people are more likely to take in your message if they are feeling happy. Take care with your choice of joke, however, in case it might trigger negative associations, which will defeat your purpose.

Beware of negative anchors. For example, for people who are not from the business environment, sitting in classroom-style rows may trigger negative memories. You could anticipate and pre-empt this:

  • Ensure that you are at the same level as them
  • Arrange chairs in some other layout 
  • Don’t have chairs at all.
If you would like to see other seating styles and their implications, take a look at Room layouts.

Spatial anchors

Spatial marking is a way of using non-verbal behaviour to increase audience understanding, comprehension and recall of the subject on which you are speaking.

A simple method of marking out points of information in time and space is in the use of the expression:

  • In the first place... (makes first point)
  • In the second place... (makes second point)
  • And thirdly and finally...

The speaker often extends their thumb for the first place, index finger for the second and middle finger for the final point. This is a memory trigger for both speaker and listeners.

Timelines

People understand time as having a quality of direction, as if it moves in a line. This helps us to organise the sequence of our memories and future plans. A commonly understood timeline flows from the back (past) to the front (future).

Another frequently used timeline runs from the left (the past) through the centre (the present) to the right (the future). By marking out specific points in a line on the stage that runs from the audience’s left to their right, you can emphasise important points non-verbally as well as verbally. As you move to each position the audience will unconsciously register the corresponding timeframe.

Note that the timeline appears to be reversed from your perspective as presenter, but it is correct from the audience point of view.

Example

A manager’s presentation concerns the company’s development up to the present day and its possible direction over the next ten years. After the introductory remarks, he moves...

two paces to audience left...

‘I will talk about where we have come from’

 

then back to centre stage...

‘where the company is in today’s marketplace’

 

then two paces to audience right...

‘and finally I will talk about my vision for our future.’

 

Thus he has neatly structured his presentation both verbally and non-verbally. He continues by delivering each section of the talk from the appropriate point on the stage. Audience attention and comprehension remains high, as with each shift the speaker makes, they know – unconsciously – where they are in the presentation.

Learning to use spatial anchoring

Keep it simple while you master these skills. If you forget what you are doing it will cause confusion. An easy way to start is by establishing on your stage space:

  • A place that means ‘I’m talking to you’
  • A place that means ‘We are having a discussion’.

Good presenters do much of this unconsciously. All of us use sitting down and standing up to signal changes. As you do these, your voice automatically changes, which is an anchor to the listener. (This is why it works if you stand up when you want to finish a phone conversation.)

Anchoring states

In order to manage states you need to be continually monitoring listener reaction. The example in Your audience shows how to plan actions to move an audience from their initial state to the state you want. Below is an example showing how you might use anchoring to achieve this.

1. Describe the presentation you will be making and the type of audience.

Teaching anchoring to a group of business trainers.

2. What are the goals for the presentation?

State the goal for yourself in terms of the internal state you would like to maintain. State the goal for the group in terms of internal state into which you would like to lead them, or the kind of relationship you would like to achieve.

  • Self: flexible and balanced.
  • Group: challenged but confident.

3. What will you use as evidence to know you are accomplishing these goals?

  • Self: even tone of voice, relaxed shoulders and symmetrical gestures.
  • Group: asking ‘how to’ questions, leaning forward and making eye contact.

4. What specific steps and activities will you use?

What will you do to achieve your goals during the presentation?

  • Self: set spatial anchors and tell stories that remind me to stay flexible and balanced.
  • Group: access associated memories of training; use confidence as an example of a state to anchor in a group.

5. What problems or difficulties could arise during the presentation?

  • Self: losing contact with the group.
  • Group: becoming intimidated by the task.

6. What could you build into your presentation to correct or avoid them?

  • Self: refer to specific experiences involving group members.
  • Group: provide examples incorporating what they are already doing.

The conclusion

Repeat your main message in the conclusion. If each person only remembers one thing as they leave, make sure it’s the most important point.

The famous three-step formula works well.

  • Tell them what you’re going to say (introduction).
  • Say it (main message).
  • Tell them what you’ve said (summary).

To signal your conclusion, you might use phrases such as

  • So, in summary...
  • And finally...
  • To conclude...

Alternatively, you might choose to give a longer and more explicit signal:

Example

I notice that time is very nearly up, so I shall now pull together the main points of this presentation, before moving on to your questions.

The audience now knows exactly what’s happening:

  • It’s nearly finished
  • They need to pay attention to this summary
  • They can be preparing their questions.
Example

To summarise, then... I’ve talked today about remarkable new research into penguin behaviour.

The main points are these:

  • The first findings are available now and are summarised on your fact sheets
  • The project continues and I will be giving you regular updates
  • We welcome your feedback, and above all your input to the final stages.

Every one of you has the opportunity to make a real contribution to a truly ground-breaking project... Will you be part of it?

What do you think were the objectives of this talk? What did the speaker want the audience to go away with?

Your final message

  • What thought, action or state do you want to leave them with?
  • How will you anchor it?
  • How will you help them maintain it? (Returning to the office, for example, can act as a negative anchor, but maybe you can counter this with some follow-up information?)