As I walk on to the stage I am prepared to see if my preparation has paid off. I face an audience that has never seen me before and I stand on the stage alone. This presentation will be different than many I have done over the course of my career. I will have no PowerPoint slides to use as a prop, or as a tool to jog my memory. With no bullet points to read I will need to ensure my delivery is clear, concise and can be easily followed.
How often is each of us faced with the need to communicate critical information to an audience that is already distracted by other priorities. They may put their smart phone down, but it is just a matter of time before they habitually pick it back up. As much as our audience will try, they find it difficult to shut off and focus on what is in front of them.
As business presenters, we are looking to shape an outcome that will support our goals. We do this by creating content that moves an audience to take action. We must take them on a journey and to accomplish that, we must connect with them on an emotional level.
Pause for a moment and think about your last presentation. At what point during the presentation did you realize you had broken through to someone; anyone? Was it a smile or a head nod that alerted you to the fact that someone was engaged in understanding your point of view. Was it more overt, like a question or shout out that you were on the right track? Or were you really just trying to get through the slides you had prepared and you did not have time to watch the audience for a reaction?
I once sat through a presentation that was 90 minutes long with 437 slides and the presenter clicked on every one. Another time I asked a CTO to deliver a 30 minute talk, only to see him show up with 70 slides and talk for over 80 minutes. He told the client he did not have time for questions, but he could schedule something at another time to address their concerns.
Not every failed presentation is as epic as these examples, but we know when we have lost our audience. Some presentations appear to be successful when there is applause at the end. Applause does not signify the impact you have had, only that people are acknowledging you are done.
Successful presentations need to be personal, emotional and delivered with energy. In the corporate world we are told the importance of energy, but seldom are the personal and emotional aspects drawn into a discussion of a good presentation. Challenge yourself to find ways to link logical arguments with emotional ones. Most people make decisions at both a logical and emotional level, so when you only deliver a logical argument, you limit the chance of shifting their perspective.
When you take them on a journey with you, it is easier to build a connection that may allow them to see things in a different light and be more open to accepting new information. You may not be able to change everyone’s mind, but if you shift it just a bit, you will be given permission to continue to share your thinking.
My presentation mentioned earlier was a stand-up comedy set delivered at the Improv. No PowerPoint slides, no laser pointer, just me and the mic. I use stand-up comedy to keep me anchored to what it really takes to get through to someone. You know when you have succeeded and it is all too clear when you miss the mark.
Successful stand-up needs a laugh within 30 seconds of arriving on stage or you will lose the audience. You have to continue to shoot for 5 laughs a minute to keep them engaged. While my business presentations are not built to evoke laughter, I work to continually find ways for the audience to see themselves in the journey I am describing.
My set at the Improv went well. As I left the stage a fellow comic gave me a fist bump and mouthed the words, “You killed it.”
I had connected.
Thank you…I’ll be here all week.