Presentation techniques are the tools that help us to bring a page of written text to spoken life. They are the means by which we animate words, inject interest and build audience rapport. Learn the following 7 techniques and you’ll have your audience clinging to every word you say.
1. Speak To Their Ears. Remember that your audience receives your words through their ears. They aren’t reading it. That’s why you should continually ask yourself, “how will this sound to my audience?”. In particular, you should check for…
• The use of jargon, technical and bureaucratic language, long phrases and gobbledeegook. Avoid them.
• Specific meanings: “next Friday” is better than “soon”.
• Concrete words rather than abstract words: “microphone” is better than “sound amplification facilities”.
• Anglo-Saxon rather than Latinised words: “talk” is better than “communicate”.
2. Use Conversational English. Speakers who lack the confidence to speak directly to their audience tend to lean heavily on their prepared texts. This creates the risk of speaking the written word which can sound artificial and stilted. Conversational English on the other hand is natural and flowing. By creating the feeling of a personal chat, the conversational style helps to build audience rapport.
Idiomatic, conversational English is distinctly different from written English. It allows for occasional ungrammatical and incorrect use of words and sentences, as long as the meaning is clear and sounds right. You would not, for example, say the grammatically-correct “For whom is it?” in place of the colloquial “Who’s it for?”
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3. Make Everything Make Sense. One of the most important points to remember about a presentation is that written English does not always make the same sense to a listener as spoken English. When we read written English we go at our speed and can pause, go back or jump ahead. When we are listening, we rely on the speaker to make sense for us. Notice the difference between these two ways of expressing the same sentence.
Not: “The user will no doubt be familiar with the consequences of a machine failure at difficult moments.”
But: “I expect you know the sort of thing I mean. You’re right in the middle of something worth saving when, Phut!, the whole damn thing goes up in smoke. Before your very eyes…”
4. Signpost Where You Are Going. The technique of Signposting, or Labelling, can be used throughout a presentation. Signposting, like the signs on a street, is a way of letting the audience know in advance what is coming next in your talk. It is used to tell the audience what you want them to understand from it.
• We can signpost the whole talk when we start: “I’d like to do three things this morning. First, I’d like to look at our current position; then our plans and finally, the costs.”
• We can signpost a sub-point: “My second area is to look at plans. First, this year’s; then next year’s…”
• We can signpost any issue: “Let me give you an example of what I mean…”
• We can signpost the end: “Just one more point before I finish…”
Audiences appreciate signposting because it helps them know where they are.
5. Use Jokes To Build Rapport. Jokes are a way of amusing an audience while at the same time sharing something with them. The point of contact is the shared laughter. If a joke works it brings you together; conversely, if the joke doesn’t work, it pushes you apart. Jokes need to be appropriate, well-presented and, of course, funny. A blue joke from the Rugby club dinner speech probably won’t work well at the annual conference of the Women’s Institute. Equally a joke told badly where you miss your timing, tell it too quickly or forget the punchline is worse than no joke at all.
This joke told by Patrick Forsyth seems to catch the mood of a farewell speech:
“I remember the day after Nigel joined us and overhearing the impression he’d made on two young ladies from Accounts.
“Doesn’t that Mr Green dress well,” said one.
“Yes,” replied the other. “And so quickly.”
6. Pause For Maximum Effect. Some of the best moments in a speech are, surprisingly, those moments when you stop. Knowing when to stop is the art of the creative pause. It can work for you in a number of ways:
• to tease the audience, perhaps after a provocative question: “I bet you’d like to know how you could make a million…”
• to pause before the punchline of a joke
• to wait for an audience to settle after laughter or a general discussion
• to give the audience time to think (for example, when looking at a new overhead)
• to show you’re in total control by holding the pause just slightly longer than you need to.
7. Show Don’t Just Tell. Turning a simple presentation point into a narrative or story can entertain and involve the audience on a different level. It is a way of showing them not just telling them.
Not: “Our personal computer has three kinds of memory storage: the random access memory, the hard drive and the floppy drive.”
But: “Designing the storage memory for this particular computer was always going to be a tricky problem. The first team to look at it was Rob James and Ellen Smith. After several experiments they discovered that they could build in a huge RAM but their problem was what to do with the hard drive. This was new territory. Neither of them had worked on anything like that before. First, they tried a separate box. No good. Then a new casing. Still no good. They were about to give up when news came from Japan about an amazing new microchip…”
Master these simple techniques and you’ll raise your presentation expertise to heights you’d only just dreamed of before!