Stop Presenting, Start Engaging

How to improve your presentation skills online and off

Robyn Hatcher, Speaker, Author and Consultant

Whether on a stage, at a meeting, or on a virtual platform, one of your most effective sales & marketing tools is an engaging, persuasive presentation. But so many presentations bore listeners to tears or expose innate fears. In fact, public speaking consistently ranks as one of people’s top fears. After 20 years of training leaders and executives at SpeakEtc, I recommend 5 tips to lift your next presentation to a new level.

1. Second guess your audience

My study of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and years as a communications coach taught me that no two people process information the same way*. Since it’s impossible to tailor your communication to fit every person in the room, asking these questions about your audience will help:

  • The Obvious: Age? Education? Level of seniority? Culture? Mindset?
  • AND the not so obvious. What do they already know? What more do they need to know? What are some expectations listeners may have? What are some biases, and what will people with biases likely say? How can I address their questions within my speech?

You won’t know the definitive answers, so make an educated guess, ask a colleague their opinion or experience, send a survey, and/or use a show of hands polling question at the beginning of your presentation.

2. Start with WHY

Show of hands, who starts preparing a presentation by focusing on your content? What you want to talk about is important, BUT 80% of your presentation success starts with knowing your why. Why are you speaking? Why should they care? Think about what you want them to know, think, feel, understand, or do as a result of your speech. What’s the one point you want them to remember?

Starting with why will help you figure out what is important to include and what you might be able to leave out.

3. Engage emotion

95% of most thinking and decision-making takes place in the subconscious, the part of our brain ruled by emotion. We then use our logical brain to rationalize the choice our subconscious has made. Whether they’re considering what kind of car to buy or which colleague’s idea to listen to, people make decisions based on how it makes them FEEL. Yet, so much content put into presentations is data, facts & information — logical brain stuff. To create engaging presentations, weave in emotional hooks; otherwise, your content may not get heard or understood.

One effective way to engage emotion is through storytelling. Listening to a story uses almost every part of our brain, therefore making a deeper impact. How can you create a story around your data? How can you create visuals around your facts and statistics? Case studies, examples, hypothetical scenarios, your origin story, mission, and experience are all ways to engage a listener’s emotions.

4. Meet them where they are

You are steeped in the lingo, uniqueness, and importance of your business; your listeners are not. Founders often speak as if their listener has been on the same journey they have. They assume that everyone will automatically appreciate the benefits and brilliance of their hard work. Your product or service makes complete sense to you, but to some listeners, it’s a huge leap from “these are my awesome facts” to “sign on the dotted line.” Create a bridge that links your “awesome facts” to “What’s in it for Them.” Stories, analogies, and examples can be that bridge. You may also need to distill your knowledge into smaller, high-level concepts that allow your listener to see how you got to where you are and how what you are offering will make a difference in their lives.

5. Mind your non-verbals

Emerson said, “What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say.” Nonverbal communication accounts for 60–80% of communication effectiveness. The subconscious mind that makes decisions based on emotion gets most of its clues from body language and vocal tone.

Record yourself before any important presentation. Work with a coach or colleague to assess whether your voice has enough variety, emphasis, and energy; whether your posture is powerful, your gestures effective, and your facial expressions convey trust and confidence. In the virtual world, busy or distracting backgrounds, bad lighting, voice distortion, flat, monotonous vocal tone have even more of a negative impact on viewers than they do in-person. If you’re presenting virtually, check your sound, lighting, and background before you join. Increase your energy level and vocal variety. And make sure you’re centered in the video frame with enough of your torso in view, so you’re not just a talking head.

Anybody can present, but to become someone who generates buzz and catapults your business to success, you need to stop presenting and start engaging. Contact me for more information on any of these topics.

*Because communication styles vary so much, I’ve developed a communication style assessment called ActorTypes, based on my book Standing Ovation Presentation. My 9 ActorTypes: Hero, Superhero, Buddy, Whiz Kid, Supermodel, Ingenue, Comic, Villain, Curmudgeon. You can find out more about my ActorTypes by taking my online quiz.

Robyn Hatcher, Founder of SpeakEtc, leading a Presentation Skills workshop

About Robyn Hatcher

Robyn Hatcher is a speaker, author, consultant, and communications expert that believes that we all have the inner power to become dynamic speakers and exceptional communicators.

Robyn is the Founder of SpeakEtc, a professional training and coaching firm. She has transformed the careers of thousands of business leaders through corporate training, private coaching, and interactive presentations. Fortune 500 companies and brands such as Allstate, Deloitte, Hewlett-Packard, JetBlue, and Merrill Lynch are a few notables on Robyn’s rich list of clientele.

Robyn is also the author of the Forbes.com top coaching book, Standing Ovation Presentations: Discover Your Unique ActorType & Let It Shine (Motivational Press, 2013). Named by Six Figure Startup as one of 4 Fun Business Books, Standing Ovation Presentations is a practical guide to composing and delivering a presentation with real impact.

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