Five Tips to Connect with Your Audience

For those of you who have had to give presentations, you're well aware of the challenges. How do you distill the details of your talk into sound bytes that people can digest? Too much information and people go south, too little information and they leave unsatisfied and expecting more. What's the right balance of disseminating information and making an impact on your audience? Here are some tips to keep you focused on maintaining this balance:

1. Less is more.
Rather than stuffing five topics in a thirty-minute talk, pick three and make time for comments and feedback. There's nothing worse than sitting through a presentation with five minutes remaining and the presenter rushes through the last ten slides. Picking fewer topics forces you as the presenter to ask "What's my core message?" With less content to cover, you'll have additional time to interact with the group. You can then focus on how the message is playing with your audience, rather than apologizing for going too fast.

2. Don't just tell your audience WHAT you're going to do, tell them WHY.
The most frequent mistake I've seen presenters make is assuming the audience understands your goals in speaking. You've probably heard the phrase "Tell them what you're going to do, do it, then tell them what you did." This is a good start but take it one step further. What you're going to do sets expectations for what people will hear. Why you're doing it reveals what your group should take away. When everything is said and done, what really matters is what people remember, learn or do differently as a result of your presentation. Asking yourself why you're speaking on a topic will force you to identify the CONTEXT behind your CONTENT. To assist you in identifying this, put yourself in your audience's seat and ask "why is the presenter telling me this?" Know the answer before you get up to speak.

3. Practice your first five minutes three times.
I have read numerous studies that suggest you have fifteen seconds to make a positive impression on your audience. Although no one needs this kind of pressure, practicing your introduction will set the tone for the entire talk. Delivering a good introduction conveys the following about you to your audience:

  • You're in control
  • You're credible
  • You're comfortable with yourself

4. You don't have to answer every question.
Believe it or not, your most difficult, outspoken participant probably just wants to be heard. You unnecessarily sabotage your presentation by defending your point of view against every challenge or hostile comment. Allow your participants to express themselves, without necessarily having to change their minds or prove that you're right and they're wrong. This takes self-restraint, but it allows you to stay focused on your objectives and avoid unnecessary battles.

5. Make time for group reflection.
Webster's defines reflecting as To make apparent; express or manifest. If you accept the premise that the value in a presentation resides with what the listener takes away and not what you're doing, group reflection becomes a critical step. Simply put, make time for people to verbalize what they heard or their reactions to your topics. Do they agree with your premise? Is your message clear? What will your audience do differently as a result of going through the presentation? These questions are examples of how you can help your audience uncover value. In a matter of minutes, the simple act of asking people to reflect on a topic can transform a seemingly bored group into an engaged, interested audience.

Traditional presentation coaching focuses on clarity and being dynamic, both important skills. At the same time, the heart of a great presentation is not what the presenter does, but what the listener takes away. If you focus on these tips, you'll observe a noticeable change in your presentation skills; not because you're clear or dynamic, but because your group will walk away saying they got value.

And isn't this where it counts most?