When you are in front of an audience, you want them to feel comfortable with your presence and not distracted by your actions. Once, I was delivering a presentation and wanted to test out some new technology. There was an app on my cell phone that I could use to advance the slide deck. How cool was that? I thought the audience would think it was a cool tool. It wasn’t as sexy as I thought because I never told the audience why I had my cell phone in my hand. They thought I was waiting for an urgent phone call, and were not totally engaged in my presentation. I know this because after the presentation some people asked me why I kept the phone in my hand – they wondered if my wife was expecting! I was a distraction to the audience because their focus was on my phone and not my words.
Here are seven platform tips so you can become a better presenter and less of a distraction.
Podium or no podium
Do you like to use a podium when delivering your presentation or do you like to be able to walk around? For those of you who like the podium, is it because it creates a buffer from the audience or it is easier to refer to your notes or script? For those of you who like to walk around, how comfortable are you delivering a presentation from behind a podium?
Personally, I prefer to walk around and stay as far away from the podium as possible. I did have to deliver one speech from a podium, and it was very uncomfortable. I don’t like to read from a script, but in this instance, I had a final draft of a speech delivered to me about an hour before the presentation. This speech had some edits, and I was unable to get familiar with the content. I was extremely uncomfortable, and you could tell by my voice and body language.
What to do with those pesky hands is a favorite question asked. Do you let them hang by your side? Do you clasp and unclasp them throughout your presentation? The one thing you shouldn’t do is to put them into your pants pockets because it looks unprofessional. Let your hands be part of your presentation to add additional visualization to your point. But be careful of the large, exaggerated hand and arm gestures. You don’t want to look like you’re trying to hail a New York City cab or be rescued from a deserted island. When you practice, keep your hands below an imaginary line just below your chest. Use gestures to enhance your presentation without being a distraction.
Remember to Smile
When you smile it looks like you are enjoying yourself and having fun. It is also more engaging to the audience. Think about this, when you watch a presentation, do you connect more to a speaker who is smiling rather than one who is frowning or not showing any emotion? Smiling wins! However, we all have “one of those days” and finding a smile is about as likely as winning the lottery.
How do you give an honest smile when you don’t feel like it? My coach in New York offered great advice. He said that when you need a smile, all you have to do is say three words in your head : “I love you,” but said in a southern accent. You read that correctly. It’s an excellent way to get a smile when you need one. A smile goes a long way to helping you and your audience relax and engage. Remember, the “I love you” exercise uses inside words, not outside words!
Don’t immediately start your presentation
Your introduction has concluded. Go to the middle of the stage, pause for a second or two, then begin your presentation. Give the audience a chance to see you before you begin. Let them get familiar with you – you want them to get to know you a bit, to trust you. It isn’t easy to slow things down. Your body is highly charged with adrenaline, and you want to get started quickly.
You need to slow the adrenaline high, and can do this by taking two or three deep breaths. That will help relax your nerves and calm down the excitement you feel. If you are off stage and the audience can’t see you, then bend at the waist and breathe deeply for a moment or two. While doing this, think about slowing your inner clock down to a leisurely pace. Now you can confidently walk to the middle of the stage, pause for a moment, and begin.
Moving on Stage
Have you ever been to an amusement park that has those games of skill where you can win a big stuffed animal? One of the games I remember is a shooting gallery. The objects are in constant movement while the person is aiming at the object. That constant movement distracts you as you focus on the target. When you are like that on stage you become a pacer. If you pace back and forth on stage it is because your adrenaline is overflowing or your nerves on high alert. Or even worse, you have not prepared enough. Breathing, just like we talked about before, helps keep you calm, confident, and prevent pacing.
It’s nice to move around the stage but when you have a point to make, stop, plant and deliver. When you stop and plant, it tells the audience that what you are about to say is important, and they need to give you their full attention. You don’t have to stop, plant and deliver in the middle of the stage all the time. You can be stage right or stage left and address the critical point. Move toward the stage area you have selected, slow down your step and maintain eye contact with the audience. Then plant and deliver.
A pause is a powerful tool for every presenter. The pause can be used just before delivering a punchline, or for dramatic effect, or to let the audience catch up and process what they have heard. I can also be used just to give yourself a quick moment to gather your thoughts. Many new presenters start their presentation at a fast pace and never slow down. That is due to nerves or possibly the lack of preparation.
As you practice, practice where you will put the pauses. Feel the beat of the pause and imagine the faces of the audience when they have that AH! HA! moment or the look they have just before you hit them with the punchline.
It is very important to make eye contact with the audience. You don’t have to stare them down and make them feel uncomfortable. You shouldn’t be focused over the heads to the back of the room or looking down at your shoes. Just make quick eye contact with attendees across the room. If they are smiling and looking back at you, you know they are engaged. If they look angry, are sleeping, reading their email, or showing negative body language, you need to a find way to adjust your presentation and change the atmosphere in the room. Connect with your audience to pick up on the clues they are sending.
Work on these tips and techniques every time you are presenting. The one that I struggled with early on was pacing. I didn’t realize I was a pacer until I watched the video of my presentation. The next time I did a presentation, I kept in the back of my mind: Slow down, quit pacing, don’t be a distraction.
There is so much that we have to be aware of on top of our technical knowledge when we are presenting. The best presenters know that a subject-matter-expert is not the same as an expert presenter. They work hard to improve all presentation skills so they can be more engaging with their audiences.