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Problems Presenters Face #6

Being Dynamic

Being dynamic is a relative term. We don’t all have to present like Anthony Robbins or Bill from marketing who blows everyone away each year at the annual conference. But we do have to present to our full ability and tailor that to each of our audiences. For example if you take the communication model from Bolton and Bolton we have four styles, expressive, amiable, analytical and driver. We are a combination of all four styles, but one is more dominant than others. Here are some rules to follow:

  1. Know your style
  2. Know when you overdo your style.  Analyticals become too detailed, Amiables become too modest and seen as weak, Drivers are too pushy and Expressives skip all the detail
  3. Know the style of your key audience members.  This is not always easy, but if you do some research you should be able to get some insight.
  4. Make sure you know what the other styles feel like.  For example if you are highly analytical, know how your extroverted self-behaves. You may not use that style very often, so you may need to let it out of the box before you use it.

If you try and utilise your different styles, your audience will recognise that you are being authentic and your version of dynamic.

So here are some practical things you can do.

  • Play to your strengths – have a look at Hans Rosling’s presentation – a great example of how to be passionate about analytical data.
  • Engage with you audience by asking a direct question or two, don’t make them too hard and make sure you give them fore warning. For example you might say “Bill I’d be interested in your views on this topic in a minute”  then ask a question after you have covered the material you wanted to discuss.
  • Do an activity. For example Kelly McGonigal asks her audience to count backwards under pressure to demonstrate how a study was conducted.
  • Make eye contact with everyone and don’t forget to hold it for about three seconds (see the separate post on eye contact)
  • Practice using a more conversational style, as if you were having a friendly one on one conversation with someone for the first time.
  • Use gestures. Sticking your arms out to the side and saying welcome isn’t hard.  Something else happens when you do this – you voice and face change. This is because the emotion typically follows the action (psychologist/philosopher William James). For example you place you hand below your knee and reach as high as you can to describe the extreme’s of a stock market.
  • The same goes for movement. For example, you might start on the left of the room and say 10 years ago we started here (and explain the situation) then continue to take two steps at a time pausing after each and explaining along the way your journey until you reach your destination.  By which time you will be on the right side of the room.

So remember in order to be dynamic, be yourself and stretch yourself to your limits, after you have rehearsed them of course.

Problems Presenters Face #5

Using Notes

It’s not whether you use notes, it’s how well you use them.

Whether you are asked to do a presentation at the last minute or you’ve had a month to prepare you can apply the following principles. We are going to assume here that the presentation is important.

Have a set of notes prepared that are typed up, double spacing and a large font such that if you glanced down to your notes at desk height you could read them. You can either type these up word for word or just have key messages that you elaborate on.

It’s useful to have a script so that at a later date you can review exactly what you coverd. However you would never read the script word for word whilst presenting. Instead you would highlight key words or phrases and link them together.  This way it sounds more natural and engaging.    This also means that you only have to remember the key words or phrases and not the whole thing.

Cue cards are ok, however they are typically a technique  taught at school, so if you decided to use cue cards then be aware of the impression  you are creating.  Having said that, I have seen speakers at TED talks use cue cards.

If you are using notes laid out on a desk or a lectern follow these steps.

  • Have the pages numbered, typed up, single sided, not stapled and using the formatting outlined above.
  • As you finish one page slide it across the desk or lectern so that you have a two-page spread – you can then see at a glance where you are going and where you have been.  This is the technique news readers use for their backup notes in case the auto cue stops working.
  • When presenting, firstly look down, take the key message in look up without speaking, make eye contact with someone and then speak.  After you have covered off that message, look down without speaking take the next message in, look up, make eye contact and speak.

This technique can also be used for cue cards however you are only going to have key messages written on the cards and of course you would move the cards from the front of the deck to the back.

Now this method sounds very clunky and robotic, but with practice you will be able to make it your own by smoothing out the technique so that it looks natural and you look comfortable. If you spoke whilst reading your notes a few times in a presentation would it matter? – probably not.  Our goal here is not to lose our connection and nonverbal feedback from the audience.

Problems Presenters Face #4

Eye Contact

Eye contact is one of the most powerful communication tools we can use, and when used well demonstrates friendliness, openness and trust

The key to using eye contact well is it’s not about having a staring test with your audience, it’s about control.

We may want to use less than the other person, the same or more.  How much we use will depend on our situation. This involves the distance from the audience, cultural differences, the type of material we are presenting to name a few.

Interestingly, Chen et al. 2013, found “that the common efforts to look into the eyes of a persuasion target and demand that this person return gaze may be counterproductive to changing hearts and minds.”

Eye contact of course is two way, if someone asks a question you need to hold eye contact for about 70% of that interaction

So here are some do’s and donts

Don’t

  • Avoid picturing your audience naked as it takes your focus off what you are meant to be doing. (and it’s just weird)
  • Don’t fix your gaze at the back of the room. You want to connect with the audience, not the wall.
  • Don’t look between people’s eyes.  Eyes can give you feedback, noses don’t.
  • Don’t Stare. Holding eye contact for an entire thought (unless it’s about 3 seconds) could feel like it lasts forever.
  • Don’t make eye contact with people who are obviously uncomfortable receiving it.

Do’s

  • Hold eye contact for about 3 seconds.  If they are at the back of the room you can increase that to 5 to 6.
  • Connect with people, make them feel like you are having a conversation with them.
  • Plan your eye contact, give more attention to the decision makers.
  • If you are finishing a sentence, thought or idea hold eye for another couple of seconds before dashing back to your notes or launching into your next point.
  • Start using the appropriate amount of eye contact from the beginning.

If you find yourself struggling to use eye contact, then practice.  Ask someone you know to give you a score on how often you use eye contact well. Then build on it, one presentation at a time.

Chen, F, Minson, J, Schöne, M & Heinrichs, M 2013, ‘In the Eye of the Beholder: Eye Contact Increases Resistance to Persuasion’, Psychological Science, vol. 24, no. 11, p. 2254.

Problems Presenters Face #2

Venue and Technology Problems

Venue and Technology issues will never go away, no matter how hard we try.  So here are some ways to prevent a disaster.

Have a backup. Have your presentation on your pc, in the cloud and on an external device. If it’s not backed up three times, it’s not backed up.

Have a spare laptop with the presentation loaded.

If you are using a computer at the venue check whether the venue runs Mac or PC.  This is usually not a problem, however sometimes if a conference is run at a University different break out rooms may have different technology.

Do a quick run through preferably the day before your presentation making sure everything works. For major presentations do a full run through at the venue.

Be aware of the difference between standard 4:3 and widescreen 16:9 PowerPoint templates. The Presentation Company explain it like this:

A standard template is almost square, with a 4:3 aspect ratio. If you’re showing a PowerPoint presentation on an older projector, iPad, or tablet, you’ll need a Standard template. For all others projection types, including laptops, TV monitors, or modern projectors, you’ll need a Widescreen 16:9 template.

If you are worried about the technology, then make sure you have access to a technical resource either by phone or on site.

Have a technology check list.

Always be early even if you rehearsed the day before to ensure all systems are working.

A final thought on venues and technology. Given that your presentation is important and you have put in the hard work, don’t let things or people get in your way.

Where possible:

  • If office furniture is in the way – move it.
  • If you don’t want to use a lectern – ask for a lapel mic.
  • Make it clear that you will not be compromised on time because someone else ran over – negotiate if you must.
  • Make sure you can see the eyes of everyone in your audience so you can connect with them.

Finally, never assume things will be “right on the night” always check and double check. Even some of the best presenters get it wrong – just Google Steve Jobs bloopers.

Problems Presenters Face #1

Understanding the Audience.


Presenters have many perceived issues with their audience which need to be overcome for them to be successful. Here are some of the issues and how to avoid them.


They don’t like me. Unless you are harming them in some way, this is probably highly unlikely. What is more likely is they don’t like the position you have taken on an issue or proposal. Separate the two and focus on understanding their position and what their rational and emotional drivers are. As far as possible, address these before, during and after the presentation.


There are too many people in my audience. Find out who the most important people are and just focus on them.

They just won’t get it, they don’t understand. If the topic is complex break it down and deliver your presentation in different formats. For example; provide pre-reading, allow time for questions, understand your topic better than anyone else – because as Albert Einstein said if you can’t explain it simply you don’t understand it well enough! Don’t present, instead turn it into a workshop.

They are going to ask difficult questions. That’s ok, it’s part of the presenting game. As much as possible, understand what the issues are before the presentation and prepare your answers. In the presentation take time to understand and clarify exactly what the issue is and then if you can, answer it. If not, then say you’ll follow up and get back to them after the presentation.

I don’t have anything interesting to say. Sometimes we have been asked to present because it’s seen as a chance to practice and we should take full advantage of this opportunity. In order to make it interesting focus on how what you are presenting solves a problem for your audience, relate it specifically to them, how will it help them.

A final thought, a participant in a program was suffering from presentation anxiety which she never experienced at university. She worked out that it was simply because she didn’t know her audience like she did at uni, so here solution was simple – research!

The Importance of Understanding your Audience.

I was contacted by a PR company who was representing a psychologist. The psychologist had developed a workshop for the clients of a financial services firm. They asked me to facilitate that workshop.

The workshop was only two hours long and straight forward. It was about planning your use of time once you had retired. Even though I had many conversations with all the groups above, I didn’t investigate who was coming to the workshop.

On the evening of the workshop we were halfway through and I asked whether the workshop was making sense? One half of the room said the workshop was fantastic and the material really opened their eyes and made them think.

The other half of the room almost erupted in protest. “None of this makes sense”, “Only came here for the coffee” they yelled.  What was I going to do?

As it turned out there was nothing I could do at the time. The group who were “up in arms” had already retired, so telling them how to plan for their retirement was not very useful. The other group who were full of compliments were years off retiring so found the techniques relevant.

If I had my time over, I would have rung the financial advisers and found out more about who they were inviting. They could then have invited more of the right people!