Hopefully you found a few new tips in the last post to help you prepare for your next presentation. At this point, your slides should be all set, your stories polished and demos practiced. You should be ready to take the floor and deliver a presentation that they will talk about for weeks.
In this post I’ll share some tips for improving your stage presence and the quality of your live delivery regardless of the audience or venue.
Deliver an alacrity
1. Find your inner calm. Do whatever it takes to get into a relaxed but alert state. This is the only way to deliver naturally and deal with distractions, glitches, and tough questions without flinching. Set up early and mingle with the crowd to get over your initial presentation jitters. Always remember that the audience is on your side. They’re rooting for you and want you to succeed in delivering a great presentation.
Confession: With enough practice, you may even find that you’re so comfortable that you can wave to friends and acquaintances as they walk into the room without breaking your stride. Congratulations. You’re in the flow and on your way to a solid presentation. It’s a great feeling.
2. Amplify! You need to speak at least twice as loudly as you think to fill the room with your voice. If a wireless microphone is available to you, always use it. Acoustics can be dramatically different from room to room and you never know when ambient noise is going to cancel out your voice. Air conditioning units are notorious for creating background hisses and hums that dampen a speaker’s volume.
3. Make yourself the center of attention. In many situations this may be easy – you’ll be in a room where all seats are pointing in your direction. But regardless of the setting, you need to step directly out in front of the audience. If you feel naked, you’re doing it right. Don’t use your screen or the lectern as a shield. Get a presenter’s remote slide clicker and use it every time. It will help you keep your hands out of your pockets and remind you to step out front.
Confession: This works even in a smaller setting. If you are in a ten seat conference room where everyone else is sitting, stand up at the end of the table nearest the projection screen. You now have the floor!
4. Open with a strong “Welcome.” Come up with a short, sincere welcome statement that you can use at the start of all your presentations. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy – a simple “Welcome. Thank you for coming today.” is sufficient. It lets the audience know you value their time and attention and sets a positive tone for the entire presentation.
5. Channel your passions. Actors have techniques to get them into the emotional state needed to perform their scenes. Find similar techniques to awaken your passion for your subject matter. Focus on the topics that you feel most strongly about and come up with emotional stories that relate to them. Get fired up when these slides appear. Michael Shurtleff’s excellent book Audition describes the essences of dramatic delivery and provides a series of twelve guideposts to help discover the emotional aspects of your material.
Confession: Avoid cursing. It seems like an easy way to convey your emotions but in reality sends a very unprofessional vibe and you run the risk of offending someone in the audience. I’ve done it several times and immediately regretted every time. There are more positive and inspiring ways to share your passions to the audience.
6. Watch the hands. Keep them out of your pockets and under no circumstances cross your arms while presenting. Improv performers will tell you that this creates a barrier between you and your audience. Your goal should be to connect with them. Use your hands to help you tell stories and convey emotions. Your audience listens with both their eyes and ears.
7. Don’t forget to smile. Deliver your talk with lively enthusiasm, even if you’re nervous or you’ve presented the material several times already. Remember, it’s a brand new audience and they want an enjoyable presentation. If you look like you’re having a miserable time, the audience will share the experience. Scott Berkun and Jerry Weissman both discuss mirror neurons and how our audiences have a natural tendency to share our emotions while we present. Don’t make them suffer. Have fun and they will too.
8. Don’t forget to breathe. Pause between slides to catch your breath and collect your thoughts. This will also give the audience time to take in the new slide before you begin speaking to it. It may feel awkward but it will help you establish a relaxed, sustainable pace. Jerry Weissman’s book The Power Presenter offers even more advice on timing your delivery for maximum effect.
9. Always credit your sources. It’s rare that you will be presenting 100% original material. Be sure to cite your sources to give credit where it’s due. There may come a day when you’d like the favor returned.
10. Favor interaction over slides. Strive to maintain the tone of a conversation instead of a lecture and engage your audience in a lively discussion. Use slides with questions on them to prompt interaction. Before switching gears in your talk, ask them what they think of the information you just presented. Is it useful and actionable? Do they agree? Don’t be afraid to receive questions and freely pass the conversational back and forth between yourself and audience members. Always repeat questions to make sure you heard them correctly and for the benefit of others in the audience.
Confession: Pause before answering a tough question. It will give you time to compose a proper response and more importantly create dramatic tension. People will lean forward in their seats to hear the answer. You’ll be surprised how often this pause will give someone else in the audience the chance to participate when they otherwise wouldn’t have. Give them the spotlight briefly, grab it back promptly, and then move on.
11. Handle dead air gracefully. There’s a good chance that at some point in your presentation, something will get stuck and you will be forced to wait it out (e.g. slow machine or virtual machine, demo delay, etc.). DO NOT PANIC or you’ll just make it worse. Don’t apologize and don’t toss the blame over to the vendor (they’re not there to defend themselves so it’s a cheap shot). It’s your demo and if you have practiced multiple times in actual presentation conditions, so you should anticipate where things might potentially go wrong. Use the delay constructively to explain your environment and configuration - what hardware and software is being used, where you obtained everything, etc. If you’re still stuck after doing that, remember the acronym FIDO - Forget It, Drive On! Don’t stop your presentation and try to fix it. You won’t be able to give it full attention and you’ll break your delivery rhythm. Instead, mention that you’ll check back in a little while and move on the next topic.
12. Zoom in for emphasis. Use the free Zoomit tool to focus in on areas of the screen that are being discussed. The mouse pointer can be hard to see and the amount of information on screen with tools like Visual Studio can be overwhelming. Zoomit also allows you to annotate the screen while you’re zoomed in for additional emphasis.
13. Time box your presentation. If you find yourself running over, cut it off at the end of the next complete thought or slide segment. Don’t show any more slides and don’t apologize for the lack of time. Avoid saying “There’s no time to show this in more detail.” It serves no purpose. If you hadn’t mentioned it, the audience would never know there was more to be covered. Simply mention that you’d be happy to provide more detail at a later date. If you find that you’re running under, step up the conversational tone to get more audience engagement. Poll them for specific questions or discussion topics. What did they come to see or hear? What concerns do they have? You should be able to get 2-3 minutes out of each question. If you’re still running under, end the session. It’s always better to go under than over.
Confession: Speakers love audience participation. Delivering the same material multiple times gets to be a drag. Having a lively discussion is much more enjoyable that the show up and throw up presentation we get stuck doing all the time. We would gladly give up our entire slide deck in favor of a meaningful 50 minute conversation with the audience.
14. Close with a strong “Thank You.” A simple “Thank you. I hope this has been valuable to you.” reinforces the value you place on their time and also gives them their queue to applaud. Sounds simple but many speakers forget to do it and they leave an awkward gap of silence at the end of their presentations.
Coming up next: What to do after the show
Coming up in part three, I’ll discuss some of the follow up you should be doing after a presentation to ensure you have long lasting connections with your audience. Stay tuned.
Credits: All images are licensed under Creative Commons and have been linked to their respective creators.