I see many people giving presentations, and I can tell they just want the ordeal over as quickly as possible. They say the words they’ve prepared to say and then retreat from the stage in record time.
Sound familiar? I get it. Most people hate making presentations—and unfortunately, it shows. The presenters don’t want to be there and neither does the audience. It’s Death by Powerpoint and a waste of time for everyone! Yuck.
The problem all boils down to focus. Speakers who “hit and run” with their presentations aren’t focusing on the right thing. They’re focused on their fear. On their mission. On the words, but not the message. They’re missing an opportunity to make a difference, influence a decision.
If we want to motivate our audience to action, we need to get our focus off ourselves and on to our audience. We need to create a relationship with them. But how can we do that?
That’s what this blog post is about: getting the focus off of yourself and on to your audience.
Or, as I like to say, moving from ME to WE.
First, we’ll look at how we get into a state of self-focus. Then we consider steps you can take to place the focus on your audience in both the preparation and delivery of your presentation for better results.
Ready? Let’s go.
Why we focus on ourselves during presentations
The human brain is wired for self-preservation. Protecting ourselves is our primary instinct when we sense danger. It’s called the stress response or “fight-or-flight” syndrome. We sense danger and our bodily jumps into action:
Your heart races.
Your blood pressure spikes.
Your pupils dilate.
Your blood rushes to your extremities to foster escape or battle.
Basically, all bodily systems are working to keep you alive in what you’ve perceived as a dangerous situation.
Back in caveman days, it was saber-tooth tigers and giant armadillos. Every day was a life-or-death struggle.
Now, after 100,000 years of evolution, the modern mind is still on the lookout, assessing and judging everything we encounter. Safe or dangerous? Harmful or helpful? Friend or foe?
The problem is our brain doesn’t distinguish between saber-tooth tigers and workaday challenges. You step up to the lectern, and you’re in Stone Age survival mode, utterly overreacting to the perceived “threat"!
Everyone is looking at . . . you.
You are vulnerable. You are separate from the group. All alone!
You’ve got to change your mindset. If we can change the way we think, we will find the stress response lessens. We go from ME to WE—my goals to our goals. The audience goes from adversary to ally. You’re in this thing together.
It’s a beautiful thing—and it can be you!
How you should prepare for your presentation
Start by asking yourself, “What does this audience know about my topic? How do they feel about it?” Consider their values, beliefs, and concerns. Think about what they will enjoy from your presentation and what they could possibly disagree with.
Make sure your intention is to help the audience. How will they benefit from your presentation? What’s in it for them?
Your intention set, use affirmations such as “I’m excited to present my insights because I know they’ll make a difference to the audience” or “Our organization needs to internalize this information to be successful.”
About your audience, think “They’re here to learn from me” or “They are eager to hear what I have to share.”
The more you can shift the focus to your audience and what’s in it for them, you will reduce the focus on yourself and this step will reduce your fear.
During your presentation, talk with your audience, not to them
In fact, don’t think of it as a presentation. Think of it as a conversation, a dialogue.
When you’re talking to people, you’re in a power position. Boss to employee. Teacher to student. Parent to child.
A former colleague of mine used to say, “We only talk TO our pets. Everyone else, we talk WITH.”
When you’re talking with people, it’s a conversation among equals. You’re experiencing this together. When you’ve formed a connection with your audience, you’re open to engaging with them. It’s a shared experience.
During your presentation, “listen” to your audience
It’s an amazing experience when you’ve connected with your audience like that. Magical things start to happen. You’ll be making a presentation and you’ll make a particularly important point, and you’ll see it make an impact.
“Yeah, you see it, don’t you?” you’ll say to your audience.
You will become able to read the room. When you’re engaged with your audience, they’ll send you all sorts of cues. Facial expressions. Body language.
Or you may get a “vibe” from them and you’ll know: They’re having a hard time swallowing something you’ve said. So . . . you pause your presentation and say, “Okay, it looks like a lot of you are questioning something I just said. What questions do you have?”
Also, it’s a good idea to “check in” with your audience every three to four minutes. Say, “Is all this making sense to you?” for example.
Use your body language to reinforce the relationship
I think most of us have learned that body language communicates more than our words or our tone of voice. As humans, we pick up on facial expressions and movements faster than we can process language. It goes to reason then that how we move and gesture can enhance or inhibit our relationships with our audience.
Let me give you an example. A few years ago a colleague and I were pitching a leadership program to a local company. My colleague was having some back issues so he was sitting somewhat sideways in his chair with his arm learning over the side (in an attempt to stretch his back muscles). During a brief break in the conversation, I had to lean over to him and ask him to change his posture because it was really obvious that the potential client was reacting badly to his body language. They were perceiving him to be projecting a “I’m in power” message in the way he was sitting. He was so embarrassed as he obviously wasn’t trying to project this. Suffice it to say, we didn’t get the job.
When we lean back from an audience or continually step backward, it can give the audience the impression that we’re afraid, physically trying to move away from them. And if we’re focused on ourselves and a perceived threat, it will show.
Alternatively, when we lean toward our audience, or open our arms, or widen our eyes, lifting our eyebrows, this usually communicates we are wanting to engage with them, invite them into the conversation.
When presenting, pay attention to how you are moving and gesturing. Are you inviting or repelling? Are you engaging or fleeing?
By ensuring your message (positive) and your body language (moving toward, opening up) are in sync, you are more likely to have a more successful experience with your audience.
Overcoming our instincts for self-preservation can be a challenge when speaking in public. By changing your focus from “it’s about me,” to “it’s about US,” you can calm your nerves and create a more positive relationship with your audience.
It takes some effort, yes. But, the more you practice, the more confident you will become—and great things will happen!
Intrigued by the idea of going from ME to ME—of forming a connection with your audience and engaging with them? It can be you! At NobleEdge, we offer a presentation skills training, The Art of Skilled Presentations. This dynamic training brings together theatre arts and human psychology to help you reduce anxiety, build confidence and move your audience to action.
Following the workshop, you’ll receive individual coaching to focus on those areas you want to develop. Finally, we get back together as a group and put what we’ve learned into practice by making your presentation to your classmates.
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Marie Tjernlund is the Co-founder and President of NobleEdge Consulting. As an accomplished executive coach, certified Conflict Dynamics Profile® facilitator, and a professional performer, Marie brings her positive energy and skills to clients around the world. You can contact her at Marie@NobleEdgeConsulting.com.