Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

But wait.

Surely effective presentations are about what the audience can hear and see. You may be the presenter, but your private thoughts are private to you.

No they're not. That thinking assumes that an audience is only affected by what it can consciously hear and see.

Which is wrong.  Our feelings about your message are strongly influenced by subtle voice and body language cues that you may not intend to put out, but which we absorb subconsciously. No, of course we can't directly read your thoughts, but you cannot avoid expressing them indirectly. (In your case, I'll make an exception if you have won an Oscar recently.)

Let me put it more bluntly. Every person in your audience develops a feeling about you. Each feeling is unique. Partly that's because we see you through our own life-filter. But it's also because you are giving us subtle, oblique, glimpses of your underlying attitudes, beliefs and fears - such as fear of failure. Intuitively, all of us know that already - why do you think we often feel vulnerable when we speak? 

Our ability to get your message is strongly affected by our feelings about you. It's not logical, is it? But it's the way we humans operate.

So, you want to be really effective?  You want your audiences to sit up and pay respectful attention?  Take a close look at these core thought-habits of highly effective presenters. And - a quick heads-up - just repeating these thoughts to yourself won't be enough. Take every possible practical step towards making these thoughts true in your life.

Cultivate these core thought-habits:

  1. I am a strong person.
    This has nothing to do with my title, ethics or morals - just my inner strength.

  2. I am connected with you. 
    All of us in this room are connected. We're having a conversation, even when it's just me talking.

  3. I am open to you.
    I am open to your scrutiny. I know you can see through me - flaws and all - and that's okay. I'm comfortable with making small mistakes.

  4. I want to be here with you.
    At this moment, there is only you and my message. Nothing else. (In particular I'm not distracted by nervousness and self-consciousness.) 

  5. I want you to get my message.
    And I want that desire to be obvious.

Of course you don't say any of that to your audience. But if you were to start developing such thought-habits, how might they affect the way you speak? Cultivate them. Make them work for you. Start experiencing the deep satisfaction that comes from being a highly effective presenter.

This, from Buddhism, is right to the point: 

"The mind is everything. What we think, we become." 

Yes, it's a mind game. And what a game. What terrific rewards.

Audience abuse

Well, all right, you may have seen worse - this is, after all, the era of PowerPoint audience-abuse - but here's my experience from yesterday.

Picture this. We were sitting in a lecture theatre. Directly in front of us was a very large screen, at least 3 metres by 5 metres, covering most of the facing wall. It was brightly lit up with a slide of the outside of our theatre. We could focus on little else. Off to the left, in a dark corner, was one micro-lamp (on a lecturn) above the presenter's speech notes, reflecting enough light off the page for us to just make out his face. Huge bright screen, tiny bulb in a dark corner - the only sources of light. He talked about agriculture. The slide showed us the theatre - for the entire presentation.

Not one thing the presenter said had anything to do with the slide. Zero connection. 

Worse. Think about how we humans take in messages from a presenter. It's well established that two thirds of us respond to visual stimuli more than any other stimulus. Less than a third respond best to sound.  It was difficult for almost all of us to pay attention to the presenter's message. It was hard work.

Why it was a lesson for all modern presenters

Now, to the point - for all of us who do have relevant PowerPoint slides, but over-rely on them, turning our audiences into hypnotised chickens. Do you want your message to sink in?

Only show a picture on the screen when it specifically illustrates the point you're making right now. Then turn it off!

How? To turn the screen off but keep PowerPoint alive, create what I call a sleep slide. It's a slide that's all black. (Yes, just black, though it helps to insert a small mark in one corner so you can recognize it yourself.) Make the black sleep slide your number 1 slide and return to it (1, enter) when the relevant slide you're showing stops being relevant. So, you'll show nothing.

Yes, now the audience will turn and look at you.

Get over it. People sell ideas better than pictures. Wall-to-wall PowerPoint is audience-abuse and it kills the impact of your message.  Surely a no-brainer.

For more on how to work with a sleep slide, see my blog Insert a sleep slide


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