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How to make people want to listen during your presentation? 

If you hear someone saying that delivering a presentation is a “piece of cake”, then they either have the talent and stage experience of Amy Schumer or… they have always been on the audience side of things. Delivering a good presentation may be demanding, stressful, thought-provoking, invigorating… but easy? Rather not. The key to a good presentation is not simply to produce words in front of a crowd, but to share your opinions, observations or expertise with the audience in such a way that they want to listen.  

Here you will find, 5 ultimate tips on delivering a presentation to get you on your way to become a great presenter. 

1.Prepare the message, not the text 

Don’t think about the exact words you want to say. Be more focused on what kind of message you want your audience to receive and how you want to make them feel. Even the most interesting topic is highly unlikely to sell itself on its own merit. While facts and figures are indispensable to make a good presentation, it’s emotions and your personal take on the subject that can make it great. You must show your audience your own passion for the things you are talking about. If you are not interested, then how on earth do you expect to captivate your audience? Your enthusiasm should be infectious. Try it once and you’ll never go back. 

2.Engage your audience 

Do not fall into the trap of thinking that engaging your audience starts when you enter the stage. It’s simply not true. It’s best to consider them even before you start structuring what you want to say. Ask yourself such questions as: 

  • Are they experts or novices?  
  • Will they require some convincing? Do I expect them to be on my side from the very start?  
  • Is the language of the presentation their second language or a mother tongue? 
  • Will I be talking to a large or a small group? 
  • Do we share the same or similar cultural background? 

Once you know the answers you will be well-equipped to decide about the level of technical details to include in your presentation without running the risk of confusing your audience. You will be able to select an appropriate vocabulary range as well as the right kind of visuals. For example, for an expert the subject-specific lingo and detailed data overview may be convincing, while they may overpower a novice. 

Once you are on stage, make your presentation interactive. Keep eye contact with your audience and if you feel you have won them over, tell a joke. Be relaxed and ask them questions even if you intend to answer them yourself in the end. Use such expressions as “Imagine this…”, “Think about that” or invite them to empathize by saying “I wonder what you would do in this situation.” Get close to your audience metaphorically by interacting with them or literally by leaving the podium and entering the auditorium. 

Speaker leading presentation

3.Prepare some index cards and a one-fits-all expression 

Once you have prepared your presentation, do not assume you will read it out from the slides. If you decide to use slides at all, remember that they are there to support what you say, not to replace it. Try to make them interesting and meaningful by including visuals, graphs, illustrations and figures. Instead of filling them with blocks of text, use keywords.  

Reciting from memory is also not the best idea. You will be focused on what word comes next instead of your audience and are likely to lose your connection with them. Prepare some index cards with key messages you want to deliver, maybe use some bullet points and make sure to get them across. It’s not the exact wording that matters the most, but the ideas you want to share with others. Don’t be afraid of being slightly repetitive; redundancy is a natural feature of human communication and it is necessary for your audience to understand what you’re talking about.  

Lastly, one more piece of advice: think about one sentence that you can use in case you lose your train of thought. For me it has always been “And this is a very important thing, right?”. It has never let me down so far and it ticks both boxes: 

  • Avoiding an uncomfortable silence 
  • Engaging your audience 😉 

4.Practice, practice, practice 

Practice delivering your presentation in front of your cat, your friends or your family as if you were addressing your audience. Repeat the process as many times as you need until you feel at ease with the task. You have to feel comfortable with yourself speaking. What you say is every bit as important as how you say it. Your voice, body language, gestures, facial expression or vocal inflection can either reinforce and complement your verbal message or contradict it. Since most people are sensitive to those non-verbal cues, the will “hear” beyond what is actually being said. Therefore, being too loud and too silent are both bad. Try modulating your voice instead. Raise it to emphasize an important information or whisper if you want to create the aura of intimacy or secrecy. Same rule applies for pace. Go slower if you are about to deal with a particularly complex concept and speed up if you want to convey enthusiasm or anxiety. Play around and explore the multitude of options that your voice puts at your disposal to convey emotions or introduce clarity.  

It is not a bad idea to record your own presentation and watch your performance. This will give you the opportunity to observe yourself and analyse your gestures, movements, body language, etc. You may be surprised when you see yourself presenting for the first time. Maybe you will decide to change your behaviour on stage, e.g. move less, smile more or keep eye contact more often? Try improvising and experimenting. 

Consider testing out your presentation in front of a trusted colleague. You may always treat them as a presentation coach, incorporate their feedback and find out whether there are dull or unclear moments that you cannot detect yourself.  

Ah… and one more thing: don’t forget to measure the time. Time on stage flies! And you will most probably need some minutes to take and answer questions from the audience. 

5.Dealing with stress 

You can always try to deal with stress by rehearsing, but even well-seasoned public speakers may experience stage fright from time to time. According to Statistic Brain Research Institute even as many as 74% people suffer from fear of public speaking. Therefore, try to prepare for it by listing all potential stressors that are likely to trigger this reaction and then, think about how they make your body and mind react. Most common symptoms are sweaty hands, headache, upset stomach, clenched jaw, higher pulse and heartbeat, nausea, tensed muscles or dry mouth. The reaction is acute and intense, as if something really bad was about to happen. But… is it really the case? Our reaction to stressful situations is very similar to the reaction of our ancestors. Still, it’s good to put it all into perspective.  Our forefathers reacted like that to such risks and dangers as unexplained natural phenomena, brutal combats or fierce tiger attacks. While contemporary reactions to stress are basically the same, the triggers are far from similar. Just think about it and compare: a potentially friendly civilized audience – a furious wild and powerful tiger. Get my point? There’s really no need to feel overwhelmed. Though your body may be tricked into thinking you are fighting for your life, you are nowhere near danger. It’s going to be alright! 😊 

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