Up to 90% of business presenters talk at their audience instead of interacting with them.

Learn what type of presenter you are and five methods to hold your audience’s attention throughout your presentation.

Work pressure contributes to a total lack of preparation for important presentations
Business presenters are under a lot of pressure today. Workloads have increased as companies implemented hiring freezes during the global economic slowdown and with Blackberrys ubiquitous, executives are always “on” and subjected to a constant stream of information. While they may have to chair weekly meetings, participate in global conference calls or provide regular updates to senior managers, very rarely are these frequent communication requirements fully prepared or rehearsed.

This means many executives fall into the trap of just getting by and filling up their presentation time with a stream of data that may or not be relevant to their listeners. Executives without adequate rehearsal and preparation have to focus so much on their content – to the extent that they have to think about each sentence before delivering it – that they completely ignore the fact that an audience is listening.

When their audience is peers or juniors then no comment is made on their lacklustre performance. However, when facing senior mangers – often located in different countries – the executive can face a grilling in the question and answer section, or a hostile reception with frequent interruptions. If they don’t face such direct confrontations, then word gets back to their line manager or HR that they do not possess the communication skills to progress in the organisation.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of being focused on content, executives should understand the benefits of being audience-centric in their preparation.

Moving away from data dumping improves marketability of the executive
While work pressure and the inevitable time squeeze is unavoidable for most executives, with some preparation they can greatly improve how their message is received. This has obvious benefits for senior managers. Being known as an executive who has mastered communication skills means that you feel satisfied when you are able to influence important decisions that affect the future of the company. You are more likely to be called upon when key projects and high profile pressure situation emerge. These can greatly enhance the marketability of the executive inside the company, as well as being immensely rewarding in terms of personal fulfilment.

So if you feel that you are stuck for time and believe that you could benefit from learning how to adjust your presentation from being too content focused, don’t worry, you are not alone.

Your audience is in the same boat as you…too much information
If any of the above sounds familiar, don’t worry, you are not alone. In fact, you are in good company. Many executives have similar issues. Today’s increasingly global work day means that work never finishes and many executives feel overwhelmed by the pressure and information that they need to absorb. You don’t need a scientific study to convince yourself that executives have to digest an immense amount of information compared with ten or even five years ago.

Of course this means your audiences are often in the same boat. They have too much information and usually not much patience for data dumps or irrelevant presentations.
Executives can’t be expected to automatically know what it takes to interact with their audiences. The good news is that help is here and you can learn these skills.

Move from content to audience focus with advice from The One Minute Presenter
To take a step away from data dumping and giving irrelevant presentations that focus too much on content and adjust more to your audiences, you first need to understand what type of presenter you are.

What type of presenter are you?
You’re audience blocked if you deliver a presentation without any idea of what the audience is doing, thinking, or feeling. You don’t see potential interruptions like pen banging or mobile message checking. You don’t hear sighs of exhaustion. You don’t feel when the audience is lost or doesn’t understand your message. In short, you give the same presentation whether the audience is present or not. Many experienced presenters and trainers still have this problem. In my train-the-trainer workshops, I am frequently amazed at how blocked many ‘experienced trainers’ are when it comes to the audience. They love their content and would deliver it to an empty room.  Many technical presenters fall into this trap as they fall back on process when they are nervous.

You’re audience reliant when you constantly need the audience’s reassurance that you’re doing a good job. You’re aware of every move from the audience. If one member of the audience looks unhappy, you’re willing to stop everything and solve their issues. You’re not sure whether you did a good job unless the audience tells you that you’re great. In short, the focus is on you, and the audience is there to make you feel better.
This type of presenter often gets side-tracked and is prone to stopping the presentation if even one person in the audience is breaking a ground rule, like mobile phone checking. While admirable, this often leads to confrontations which do not move the presentation forward or put the presenter in a favourable light. Many novice presenters and under-confident presenters fall into this category.

You’re audience connected when you’re aware of the feeling in the room. You can see how individual members are reacting and although you don’t stop every time you get a negative response (like a yawn or sigh), you do course-correct. You might stop and do a quick recap or ask checking questions. You’re aware that the audience only has a limited attention span. You vary the delivery pace, and you insert activities or interactive exercises every 15 or 20 minutes. You share experiences and appropriate stories, and you’re willing to have the audience give their input into the presentation. You see the presentation as a shared experience, and actively create the connection with the audience so they give their input. The One Minute Presenter is always audience connected.

How do you interact with your audience?
Actively involve the audience
For larger presentations or trainings, adopt strategies such as games, role plays or other hands-on methods to get your audience involved with the material or subject matter. For conference calls or smaller executive meetings, use the check back method below.

Mix up your approach
To better reinforce messages and allow for individual differences in learning styles, use a variety of methods in presenting material. When in doubt, use something visual that represents your message. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a million pictures. Do I have to mention that the visual should be relevant to your message?  Other techniques include shortening your presentation (wow what a nice surprise!) and for larger groups using different learning formats, like mini-discussion groups.

Use appropriate humor
Maintain interest by using a small amount of humor (but not too much to be distracting). Always test this out before your presentation. Ask three to five people you trust and if they agree that it’s funny – try it out. Never cross the bounds of taste and if in doubt don’t use it. Again all humour should be related to the point you wish to convey – and not just a video clip of your pet cat on a skateboard.

Always give relevant and specific examples
The more anecdotes and personal stories you can weave into your presentation, the more likely your audience is to understand and remember your message. With clients and senior managers, open with the phrase, “In my experience, ..” which sets you up as an authority in your area of expertise which is exactly what they want from you. If you don’t have any of your own stories, you can reference other people’s stories by acknowledging them. This is not as powerful as something that comes directly from you.

Probe and check back with your audience
Never assume your audience understands your message just because they are not interrupting you. Many Asian cultures do not have a habit of directly challenging a presenter but that doesn’t mean they are listening either! Get into the habit of asking questions frequently and being aware of their response. Simple checking questions – like “Does that make sense to you?”, “Can you see how this relates to the problem at hand?” – lets you see how the audience is digesting your messages and also gives permission for questions to be raised. With larger groups you can lead into problems for the audience to solve, e.g. group work or case studies. The poorest technique I have seen is to deliver your presentation and then only ask one question at the end: “Are there any questions?” Invariably there are none because the audience switched off ages ago. Insert questions every two to four minutes in your presentations.

Many executive have benefited from The One Minute Presenter coaching
I work with many senior executives from multinationals around Greater China. Just recently, after helping one senior executive to become more aware about what type of presenter he was (audience blocked) and to practise some of the techniques mentioned above, he was able to interact more effectively with his audience which meant that his presentations were more enjoyable as issues surfaced during the delivery rather than a week or two afterwards. He adjusted his interaction skills to become much more connected with his audience. He now tends to seek more audience participation as a way to test and strengthen his ideas which has made him a more effective (and liked) executive.

So what now?
If you are ready to take a step up in your career, and want to learn how to be a more powerful communicator, then visit us below and download a free chapter on how The One Minute Presenter system works to help you develop more executive presence.

About Warwick J Fahy
Warwick works with high-potential senior executives who struggle to get their point across and influence their key stakeholders. Warwick helps the executive gain respect by quickly and powerfully expressing their opinions – even when under pressure.
Warwick is the author of The One Minute Presenter: 8 steps to successful business presentations in a short attention span world. Warwick can be reached on  +86 21 6101 0486.

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