More and more companies are requiring that employees be able to prepare and deliver presentations. The
presentations may be to future or current customers, governance boards, other employees, management,
etc. While the audience may be different the common goals are generally the same. Presentations are
used as a tool to communicate an idea or opportunity to an audience. It is a commitment by the presenter
to help the audience do something and a constant evaluation of the worth of that commitment by the
audience. In most organizations, employees are continually asked to get their audience to commit to what
they are delivering in a presentation.
Presentations are a relationship building process between a presenter and their audience. They are
a partnership rather than a performance, a linkage rather than a confrontation and a task of coming
closer rather than pulling apart. The presenter knows something that the audience does not and they are
asking the presenter for information. In return the presenter has a need for approval through applause,
affirmation through body language, signature on a document, etc. Good presenters talk about what the
audience needs, not what they need for themselves. Chemistry is important with an audience, just as it is
important in one-on-one relationships. Building that chemistry with the audience is often a difficult task
for the presenter.
It is often said that individuals have less than 90 seconds to make a first impression with another
individual. This is true with presenters and their audience too. Their actions within the first 90 seconds
will make or break an audience’s ability to listen and buy-in to the information that they are providing.
Reverend Jesse Jackson once said, “I’ve learned that nervous speakers make people nervous.” If a
presenter is nervous the audience will pick-up on that nervousness and feel sorry for the presenter versus
listening to what that person has to say. So, it is important that presenters have a routine prior to giving
their presentation that helps them to calm their nerves and make a good first impression. Things that
have proven to help presenters to reduce their nervousness and improve first impressions include: taking
a brisk walk just before the presentation; continually telling yourself, as the presenter, that you have the
confidence in the material due to your knowledge of the subject; and creating one’s own perception of
leadership with the audience. Presenters are in control of the audience and need to use that control to
their advantage to help reduce their stress and nervousness. Presenters need to remember that by sharing
what they do know and not what they don’t know and opening up rather than withholding information
will only boost their own energy level and confidence, which projects positively on the audience.
Boring speakers put audiences to sleep and allow them to daydream away from the topic. Most people
have an attention span of less than nine seconds before daydreaming occurs, so presenters must keep the
topic fresh and energized. It is advised that presenters stay away from lecterns and podiums and move
around the audience. By moving away from the lectern and/or podium presenters are showing their
confidence in the subject matter and removing barriers between them and the audience. It also proves
that the presenter is alive and it keeps the audience awake. Presenters maintaining eye contact with all
audience members is important as they will be able to tell whether people are really listening, which may
result in changing up portions of the presentation in order to keep the audience interested. Speaking with
inflection in one’s voice also keeps the audience’s attention, as they are not sure what will be said next or
how it will be said. Asking for the audience’s participation is always a good way to keep them interested
too. They will be waiting to see if the presenter asks them to participate and want to be prepared.
Remember that presentations are all about the audience. Presenters are advised to start with an issue or
opportunity that is of direct concern to them, provide them with a different point of view or a different
way of looking at the issue, back it up with evidence, offer a resolution or an idea and then suggest the
next step. Keep in mind that presenters will never make an enemy by ending on time or sooner. Shorter
presentations that get to the point early are the trend of the times. So give the audience the gift of time by ending earlier or on time.
Question and answer sessions at the end of the presentation should be included in the total presentation
time. Good presenters anticipate what questions they will likely be asked and plan accordingly.
Executives typically ask questions that they already know the answers to. However, they want to know if
the presenter knows. Executives often think through the minds of their customers and presenters should
too. So, relating a question to a specific experience may show credibility as long as the presenter keeps
to the topic and does not stray too far away from the question. If the presenter doesn’t know the answer
to the question, it is okay to say so and get back to the person with an answer. However, if this is done, it
is strongly advised that the presenter do so as soon as possible. That weighs more on one’s credibility as
a subject matter expert compared to anything else. The best advice is to prepare for questions as much as
one prepared for the original presentation.
For additional information on this topic or if you need employee training on how to give presentations,
please contact New Focus HR, LLC.
Written By: Kristen Shingleton, M.B.A., CCP
President, New Focus HR LLC