It’s very common for me to hear clients wanting to improve their presentation skills exclaim “I want to be less nervous”, “I want to stand out and be noticed”, “I want to be remembered”
These phrases are often used during our scoping exercises where clients explain that they need executive presence at the workplace and most often, fixate on themselves rather than turn their attention outward to their audiences.
While it’s understandable that individuals would focus on themselves during such sessions, they fail to realise that in fact, taking the focus off themselves will help them achieve their goals more easily.
Before getting to the technical aspects of presentations, such as developing key messages, using appropriate metaphors & stories and deciding on multimedia elements, speakers must take a step back and reframe the way they approach the process.
Begin by reminding yourself that it’s not about you!
Memorable presentations are carefully curated gifts for audiences. Knowing your audience is critical. What would they think of as a gift – something that changes their worldview, something that they can hold on to, or be inspired by? Sure, your corporate key messages matter to you and your organisation, but how can you make them matter to others?
Audience mapping is an integral part of this. How much do they already know about the subject matter? Your job is to meet them where they are and take them on a satisfying journey. Thinking about your presentation this way will also help you decide what to include and what to exclude, saving you from an overstuffed presentation with under-explained concepts.
Taking the focus off yourself can also keep nervousness under control. I’m sure you’d agree that worrying about how you look or sound tends to intensify the jitters. When the audience is at the centre of your consciousness you’d tend to focus on connecting more deeply with them. You’ll more effectively distract yourself from destructive feelings and in turn, connect even more easily with the people you’re trying to reach.
Openly acknowledging some nervousness could actually help you connect better. Try disarming a sceptical audience with your authentic vulnerability. Many audience members are likely to empathise with you and root for you to excel.
One of the most vital aspects of stage presence and connection is eye contact. Many struggle to maintain this meaningfully when addressing large audiences. Our advice is to find five to ten people in different parts of the audience, look them in the eye and speak to them as friends.
Beyond establishing and maintaining eye contact, the other elements of developing robust rapport will go a long way. Obviously, you won’t be able to match every person in your audience. However, if you create trust with your audience from the get-go (through techniques such as projecting honesty and vulnerability or expressing thoughts and ideas that most people can relate to), you would be able to disarm them enough to be open to your thoughts and ideas.
We often advise our clients to begin by matching their audience’s energy. An overly enthusiastic speaker could have a jarring effect on a low-energy audience but by using techniques such as pacing and leading, you’ll soon increase their energy levels to match your enthusiasm and effectively influence them.
Remember also that when addressing large groups, you’re dealing with people who process through the five senses differently. Whether they are visual, auditory, or kinesthetic, your challenge is to blend and balance these preferences throughout, to keep everyone engaged.
It’s only when you’ve mastered the art of cultivating a meaningful relationship with your audience that other elements of your talk will come together and leave your audience with a valuable and memorable gift.
Sylvia is a qualified Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) Master Trainer. She started her business in Sydney and is now based in Singapore.