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How to Give Better Presentations

One of the first things I say, when leading my communications workshops, is “stop giving presentations.”
 
That might seem like an odd statement coming from someone who makes a living speaking and helping others speak more effectively.
 
But what I also tell them is that we should replace “presentations” with “conversations.” It’s as much a mindset shift as a change in how you prepare and engage people important to you.
 
After all, we’ve all experienced – either as the deliverer or the recipient – what happens when we go into presentation mode.
 
I saw this first hand a couple of years ago. We were at a beautiful resort in the American Southwest. The audience was in a great mood. They were leaders who had achieved awesome results the previous year and were being treated well in a sunny location with golf and spa treatments.

What’s not to like? Now there was some anticipation as they waited for the CEO to speak.

People were super engaged
I was sitting at the back of a large hall, filled with a dazzling stage, bright lights and music. I was hired to observe and give feedback. The CEO started to speak. He was smiling, charming and spontaneous. He used the names of people in the crowd and joked with them.  People were laughing and super engaged.
 
Then, he cleared his throat, “Ahem” and said, “Okay, let’s get started.”  He looked down at his speech on the floor monitors. Up came the PowerPoint slides. He began to read the words from the stage. It almost seemed like the first time he had read those words.
 
Up came the smartphones
I watched as people at the back of the room who a moment before were laughing and watching their leader suddenly turned to their smartphones. They had something better to do. Others crossed their arms on their chests, girding themselves for a long haul. 
 
This happens everywhere. You’ve probably seen it. It’s a fact of life. We’ve all been on the delivery side, too: spewing information at people with little regard for their needs or interests.

Presentation mode
This is not good for you or your audience. It makes us nervous because we move from having a conversation to PRESENTATION MODE. Now I'm giving a speech, we say to ourselves – and to our audience.
 
I'm not saying don’t give presentations. I’m saying don’t live in presentation mode.
 
In presentation mode, we think people are judging us: our knowledge, our appearance, our eloquence. What they really want is to interact with you. Have a conversation with a normal human being – an authentic person. 

Have a conversation 
The answer is to start thinking about your meetings and talks as conversations. A conversation will also make you feel more confident. When you put it through that lens, you’ll raise your awareness and see it from your audience’s point of view.
 
Here are a few tips to help you next time you face an audience and want to create a conversation:
 
See it from their perspective
Too often we think about what we want to deliver to people. What do we want to present to them? Instead, we should focus what they need to receive from us. What are their needs? Their pain points? How can you help them? As you know, all of us are always focused on “what does this mean for me”? When addressing that question you starting to have a conversation.
 
They’re not an audience, they’re people
We also get lost in presentation mode because we think of people we are presenting too as an audience. We see that mass of people, whether 1,000 in an auditorium or 10 in a conference room, and believe we have to push our material out to them.
 
Even if you’re speaking to people who have the same common interests, the same values, the same physical appearance, they are all individuals with different needs and perspectives.
 
Start with a story
Stories, especially your own, are the most powerful tool you have to engage people, opening their hearts and minds to your message.
 
Ask them questions
When you ask questions, you have my attention. I have to think about whether you were addressing me personally; whether I know the answer; and whether I should consider answering. You’ve made me part of the conversation.
 
Create bullet points
You can write out your entire presentation as a script if it makes you think more clearly and feel more comfortable. But for your talk, I recommend you boil it all down to bullet points.

You may have the fear that you'll forget some detail. That doesn't matter. You know this stuff and when you’re having a conversation, it doesn't have to be perfect. It has to be real.
 
Rehearse in conversation with people
Take your bullet points, hopefully written on a single page or on index cards, and talk them through the points you want to make. Think about sitting around a meal and explaining these ideas. You're looking for engagement and interaction. You’re just having a conversation.
 
Bonus tip: Have someone video record you on your phone, standing up presenting vs. just talking conversationally. Then consider: If you were in the audience, which one would you rather hear?
 
Be easy on yourself. Like any skill, it takes time and deliberate practice to develop expertise.
 
Here’s to having fewer presentations in the world, and more conversations. Enjoy your next talk.
 

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