Modern technology has fundamentally changed the game of public speaking. On the stage, speakers today need to be constantly mindful of the fact that to be quoted often means a fifteen-second clip on Instagram or Twitter, or their entire presentation distributed through video sharing on YouTube. Interactive media such as webinars, vlogs, and podcasts have become an expected part of building your brand as a business, an expert, and/or a thought leader. Where we have the luxury of sitting behind a screen, modern technology has allowed us to circumvent many of the stressors that come with traditional public speaking — the stage, the bright spotlight, and the audience in front of us. In short, the transition to a more plugged-in presentation environment has increased the degrees of separation between us and our audience, such that now we are no longer forced to interact with our audience directly, in the flesh, in order to disseminate our ideas.
When we fall into the trap of talking to our screen rather than the people at the other end, when we forget that our audience is very human and as such must be spoken to with the same personality and authenticity as we would on the stage, we begin to lose their engagement.
The world of public speaking has changed. People today aren’t interested in having a speaker talk solely to or at them; instead, our audience is looking for a speaker to have a conversation with them. Some of the strongest TEDx Talks — and my personal favorites — such as those by Paddy Ashdown, Simon Sinek, and, recently in 2016, Celeste Headlee, carry a conversational tone that allows them to interact closely with and engage their audience. Irrespective of medium, this is a tone that we need to carry to engage our audience. When we lack this tone, we begin to lose the human connection that drives effective presentation and, consequently, we begin to lose our audience’s engagement.
So, for your next webinar, podcast, or even vlog, here are 4 Tips to help you replicate the stage and keep it conversational:
1. Speak, Don’t Script
Most good Webinars have been mapped out; as with any presentation using PowerPoint, Keynote, or Prezi, the speaker or speakers have developed their slides and worked to develop their flow. While this process is important, it should not be taken to the point where your lines have been memorized verbatim. The more we memorize the more we lose the capacity to interact with our audience conversationally and organically. Memorization results in recitation which makes you sound like you lack inspiration which, in turn, means you fail to inspire your audience. We can see examples of this in highly memorized speeches in the political sphere. Think Jeb Bush — ‘please clap’.
Instead, learn your facts, not your lines. If you train yourself to focus on the key ideas that you need to impart to your audience, you will not only be able to relax and take on a more conversational tone, you will be able to develop a rhythm between yourself, your audience, and your fellow speakers. This, in turn, will allow aspects of your webinar or podcast to change and adapt organically without throwing off the flow of your entire presentation.
2. Remember Your Body Language
This seems a little counterintuitive — most times our audience can’t see us, we’re behind a screen, right?
Well, the importance of body language goes far beyond what people can see. Your body is an instrument like any other; its design determines its sound — in this case, your voice. When we sit behind a computer there is the temptation to either hunch forward closer to the screen or slouch back in our chair — yet both of these actions weaken our posture, restricting our breathing. This means that while we might be able to project our voice effectively in person or on the stage, our voice on the other end of the screen will be softer, higher pitched, and less pleasant to the ears of our audience.
Instead, before you begin your presentation concentrate on setting your back straight, and planting your feet in front of you. This will ensure that you maintain proper posture, are able to breathe deeply, and project your voice effectively. As you speak, continue to use hand gestures as you would in a traditional presentation. The act of hand movement alone will make your talk more energetic — an energy that will be translated through your voice to your audience.
3. Talk to Something
Without an audience sitting in front of us, we have no one with whom to make eye contact. When we’re on a video chat or creating a vlog, we can step past this by focusing our eye contact on the camera. But in a podcast or webinar situation, there’s usually nothing but our slides and our notes that we can focus on. The problem here ties back into Tip 1 — by focusing on either our slides or our notes we run the risk of reading rather than discussing our points, and in so doing can begin to erode the quality of our conversation. On the other hand, if we just stare off into space as we talk, it is more than likely that we will distract ourselves with some other aspect of our presentation environment or begin fiddling with something close at hand, again eroding the quality of our conversation.
Instead, pick a point or object in the room that isn’t your screen, and talk to it. Engage it as you would an audience of one. Doing so will force you to stay focused on the presentation at hand, and avoid both distraction from your environment and the temptation to read your slides.
4. Don’t Forget to Smile
Like our body language, smiling affects the sound of our voice. Part of the reason a person’s smile is often important when applying for a customer service, support, or sales role is that even over the phone we can hear the smile — or lack thereof — in a person’s voice. If your body in presentation is your instrument, think of your mouth as the bell.
Even when faced with something we genuinely like, it is less likely that we will smile when seeing it through a computer screen. Think back and consider how many times you’ve typed “lol” or “lmao” and were genuinely doing either of those things. How many “smiley” emoticons do we send while actually smiling? In general, this is fine. However, while presenting it is important for our audience to hear the authenticity of a smile in our voice as we speak. The smile is as infectious verbally as it is visually, and when we forget to smile we run the risk of losing our audience’s engagement.
Interested in learning more? Check out presentIMPACT: The Speaker’s Guide, now available on Amazon.com.