When you are speaking in front of a group, do you really want to blow your relationship with the audience immediately? These two common presentation behaviors will help to ensure that you do!
Myth #1: You should start a presentation by thanking your audience or your hosts
Picture it: You’ve prepared carefully and are about to present. The first words to your audience as you take the stage? “Thank you. I’m glad to be here,” or something similar.
These words serve many purposes. Quite possibly, you are not really thanking anyone. Instead, you are using the words to ease your way into your position as presenter. You say the words mechanically, not really hearing them yourself, as you peer at the crowd (or not) and shuffle your papers.
Your attempt is to make yourself comfortable by uttering “Thank you.” Meanwhile, your audience has experienced this robotic opening so many times that:
1. They don’t really hear it.
2. “Thank you” means nothing.
3. They start to tune you out-and you haven’t even started!
You’ve already wasted an opportunity to connect with your audience, just so that YOU could take a stab at feeling more comfortable as you begin to speak. Was it worth it?
What to Remember
Your presentation actually begins two minutes before you take the stage. You should have slipped into your “presenter persona” before you are even introduced. This persona is the authentic YOU—but a little more so. You are alive with energy–pumped up, feeling powerful, and ready to go.
Within just ten seconds after your taking the stage, you should have engaged your audience’s attention and interest. Simply saying “Thank you, etc., etc., ” won’t accomplish that.
What to Do
Take the stage. Stand for 1-2 seconds in silence. Stay connected with your body. Be totally present. Feel your feet, quads, spine, and chest. Fill your body with breath and strength. Breathe, smile, and connect with your audience. Look at audience members and “make friends” with them nonverbally.
THEN open your mouth to speak. Engage your audience with an anecdote, question, or mental exercise. Be sure that this opening leads fluidly into the body of your presentation.
To ensure that those first precious moments enhance your presentation and credibility, practice the first few minutes of your presentation at least 4-6 times prior to “showtime.” Your practice should take place in front of a mirror. Begin with pretending that you hear yourself being introduced (or get your spouse or friend to introduce you.)
Make the motions of getting out of a chair and walking to the front of the room. Then take the stage, and follow the instructions above.
By centering yourself before speaking, you don’t need to fall back on clichés. And when you actually do thank your audience and/or hosts at the end of your presentation, your words will be much more heartfelt, authentic, and heard.
Myth #2: You should move about as you present
“You’ve got to be kidding!” I can hear some readers saying. “Some of the best presenters I had in college walked as they talked.” Others will say, “Look, I move around when I give a presentation. It keeps the audience awake!”
What to Remember
There is conscious, or deliberate, movement—and then there is its opposite. Many speakers (especially males) demonstrate a kind of unfocused, rambling, back-and-forth movement with their feet. This distracts enormously from their message.
Focused movement has to do with centering yourself as a speaker. When your mind is jumbled and jumping from thought to thought, you are more likely to move about in a jumbled, unfocused way. When you are truly invested in what you are saying, AND connected via eye contact to your audience, your focus is clearer. You are less apt to aimlessly wander.
Remember, it’s good to gesture with your arms and hands to enhance the meaning of your words. It is not good to wander the stage as you think out loud.
What to Do
Become aware of WHY you are moving. Do you want to address another part of the audience? It’s totally acceptable to move from one side of the stage to another, but then you must STOP to make your point. Gesture dramatically with the top half of your body. Use your hands, arms, and torso. But keep your feet still as you make your important points.
The best suggestion is simply this: Be interested and invested in what you are saying, and say it directly to the audience as if they were a friend. Chances are, you won’t “wiggle around” so much with this mindset.
Aristotle paced the Lyceum when he was teaching, and Kierkegaard was a proponent of walking while he thought aloud. But today’s world, it’s all about connection with the audience. This means that you face your audience directly and securely, no “bobbling” allowed.
The underlying message of both these Myth-Busters is this: Presenters, be Present! Be 100% “there” for your audience, both physically and mentally.
Remember that your presentation begins minutes before you take the stage. Get centered and focused before you start talking…and beware of your “wandering ways.”
© Guila Muir.