I was so excited to attend the training session! Joining our group was a renowned guest speaker who would give us a crash course in his area of expertise. I could not wait to learn all about this topic, collect notes and materials and then share with my colleagues.
Halfway through the training, I was completely lost. I wasn’t sure if it was just me or if others in the session were having the same experience. At the end of the presentation, our guest was given a round of applause and numerous accolades. After all, he was the expert on the subject at hand. Only after the meeting during an informal debrief with fellow group members did I realize that I had not been alone. Many of my fellow attendees had been lost as well.
Since this event, I have had the opportunity to develop and present materials to others. As I prepare for speaking engagements, I often reflect on that training. What did I, as an audience member, gain from the presentation? What did I miss? Why was this? In general, WHAT HAPPENED? I realized that the speaker, despite having expertise in his given area, did not create his presentation with the audience in mind. He had focused in on the content so much so that he lost us in translation.
Communication is complex
Communication is extraordinarily complex. This is because human beings communicate in many ways. Beyond alternate languages and terminologies, we utilize both verbal and nonverbal communication. To add to the complexity is that we now use numerous communication platforms.
Nonverbal communication comes into play primarily when we engage in face-to-face communications. Nonverbal communication predates verbal communication; it is the first way human beings learn to share their feelings. It is instinctual and often difficult to conceal. It tends to be the most transparent window into one’s true feelings. Learning to maintain awareness of your own nonverbal communication tendencies can help you present authentically. Further learning to interpret nonverbal communication is a powerful skill that can give you an understanding of another’s true feelings about an issue.
In addition, nonverbal communication is a powerful tool when utilizing virtual platforms such as Facetime, Adobe Connect, Skype or others. Mastering the use of your camera so you are looking at the virtual audience instead of yourself on your computer screen can help you make a virtual connection with your audience. Paying attention to eye contact, facial expressions and use of space (closer or farther from the camera) can give you that personal connection that is often missing in virtual presentations.
Tricks and tips for face-to-face:
If you have been given an opportunity to present your knowledge or expertise to an audience, here are some tricks and tips that can help the experience be a good one for both you and your attendees:
Deliverables – what is the goal of your presentation? What are you hoping the audience will gain from listening to your offering? By keeping your goals in mind, you can develop a roadmap to help you achieve it.
Timeframe – how much time do you have to deliver your material? Be sure to know this upfront so you can prepare your information in a way that will cover the most salient points and achieve your goal.
Know your audience – who are you speaking with? Are you asking a leadership group for something? If so, you will need to design your materials with that objective in mind. Are you teaching an audience of students about your expertise? Then make sure you have main points that you want them to leave knowing carved into your materials.
Nonverbal communication – practice what you are going to say in front of a mirror. Make sure that your automatic nonverbal communication matches your message. When you are in the moment of delivery, pay attention to the audience nonverbals – this will send you a clear message whether they are following you or if you are losing them.
Language – keep your language simple and understandable. Avoid using jargon or terms that the audience may not know. If possible, avoid the use of abbreviations and acronyms. If you must, make sure you clearly identify what it stands for in its first use. Assume that nobody knows what the abbreviation stands for and it is your responsibility to inform them all.
Make your pitch – don’t forget to ask for what you want. If you are speaking to a leadership team, ask them to support your idea. If you are speaking to student learners, give them an opportunity to teach back so you know that they got the message.
Over prepare – set yourself up for success by allowing yourself enough time to practice your delivery. The more prepared you are, the more confident you will be.
A final thought:
Great presenters don’t happen by chance, they develop with practice. They solicit their audience for feedback and to gather additional insight into what was effective and what was not. Public speaking or even presenting to meeting participants is often met with fear and intimidation. A wise mentor once said to me that going into a presentation with the proper mindset can help immensely. Keep in mind that your audience wants you to succeed, and they want to hear what you have to say. With the proper preparation, and the proper mindset, it is a skill that can be molded and cultivated over time.
Kathleen Glow-Morgan is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a New York State Licensed Clinical Social Worker that has been employed by the Veterans Health Administration since 2008. She currently works as a National Transformational Coach Captain and Health Systems Specialist within the Office for Veterans Access to Care. Ms. Glow-Morgan is a Certified Alternate Dispute Resolution Mediator and a Certified Change Management Practitioner. Ms. Glow-Morgan has expertise in conflict management, communication strategies, coaching and change management. She has presented at numerous national conferences and workshops.