Dazed and confused
I’m sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a dimly lit room. A projector screen is reflecting royal blue while a voice drones from up on stage. Bullet points. I know I should be paying closer attention to this presentation, but my brain just can’t focus.
I look around the room and see I’m not the only one drifting. The eyes of the woman seated two rows behind me are staring straight ahead, glazed. Her mind is somewhere far from here. The man on my right has totally jumped ship—he’s halfway through a game of Blackberry Solitaire.
The only one in the room who doesn’t seem to be drifting is the presenter on stage. In fact, he seems to be smiling. This poor guy is contently working through his slides, oblivious to the fact his audience has abandoned him.
How does this happen? How can this guy not realize his presentation is so boring? I know he can hear himself speaking, the problem is he’s just not listening.
“Hearing” happens in your ears. “Listening” happens in your brain. Listen to yourself from the mindset of your audience and you’ll notice a dramatic improvement in your presentation skills.
Listening is an active process that involves asking the right questions at the right times. In delivery, you want to focus your listening on two areas: “what you're saying” and “how you're saying it”.
1. What you're saying
Question to ask yourself: Does this make sense?
If I start speaking in Spanish to an audience of non-Spanish speakers, I’m obviously going to lose their attention pretty fast. The same thing happens in a complicated presentation.
You’re the expert. You’ve taken the time to do your research—immersing yourself in your content for days, weeks, maybe even months. Steeping in your content and its associated lingo for so long makes it easy to fall into “expert-speak” mode.
Unless you’re presenting exclusively to other experts, expert-speak mode is something to avoid. Things that make sense to you will fall flat with your audience since they don’t necessarily know all the things you know.
It’s your job to simplify and explain your content in such a way that it makes sense to your audience.
2. How you're saying it
Question to ask yourself: Is this interesting?
This one is a bit more subjective and a bit more difficult. “Interesting” is different for everyone.
Think back to a great teacher in your life, someone you learned a lot from. For me, one such person was my 9th grade English teacher. He was able get a bunch of high school kids revved up about Shakespeare and grammar because he knew how to relate the material in a meaningful way. He knew how to make it interesting.
Are you presenting to the company's sales team or a group of programmers? The two groups tend to find different things interesting, so the lingo, metaphors, and examples you use will also need to be different.
Take some time to learn about your audience; frame your content so it's interesting to them.
Lights, camera, you!
You may even want to take your listening one step further and record yourself practicing your presentation.
Listening to your recordings will bring to light things about yourself you had no idea existed. You'll discover mannerisms you didn’t know you had, phrases you didn’t realize you used. It’s a humbling but valuable experience and something all the pros do.
At the end of the day, your goal is for your audience to understand and enjoy your presentation. If you want your audience to listen to you, begin by listening to yourself.