“Keep away from those who try to belittle you. Small people always do that, but the really great make you believe that you too can become great.” – Mark Twain
It doesn’t matter if your relationship is romantic, friendly or business-related, a good one comprises of three fundamentals: Respect, rapport and trust.
And giving a presentation is no different. After all, your presentation creates the relationship you have with your audience. And having a great relationship helps you to engage and get your point across.
However, unlike other relationships, you don’t necessarily have much time to build up these fundamentals. Luckily, there are three things you can do to capture and hold the attention of your audience.
Every single interaction you have in your life, be it with senior stakeholders, junior colleagues or your favourite barista, should be underpinned by demonstrating relentless and unconditional respect.
And it’s no different when you’re giving a speech. Imagine this scenario. A presenter, let’s call him Cecil, runs into the meeting late. With a terse ‘sorry’ he starts fiddling around with the technology for so long that the technology becomes obsolete. In his presentation, he appears bored and zooms through it with cluttered slides, causing the meeting to run way over time.
What Cecil is effectively saying to his audience is: ‘Your time is not valuable to me. You are not worth anything but a rushed, sloppy unprofessional job.’
What Cecil should have done is start with intention. A speech isn’t just something to muddle your way through. You can acknowledge your audience by seriously considering, how can you deliver the most value to them in the time that you have?
Even if you are not the most confident speaker, you can be on time, have your thoughts prepared and make sure the technology is setup and working. Structure and rehearse your talk so that you won’t run over-time (a boring speaker running over is a particular brand of torture) and leave time for questions (if appropriate.)
These are small things you can do that immediately indicate to your audience: I respect your time and I am going to do my best not to waste it.
Another element in a great relationship is some buoyant rapport. Energy is particularly important for this and it starts the moment you enter a room. Cecil congealing over his PowerPoint like a soggy-bottom sandwich is not going to produce an electric atmosphere. Enter the room with verve and intention. Have a bold, funny or provocative opening line to zap the audience out of their stupor. Move around the room and make eye contact to reinforce connection.
In terms of the actual content of the speech, include some universal truths (a great one is to openly admit, that none of us really know what we are doing, but that’s ok, because we are all doing it together.) Be playful and funny. The persistent notion that you can’t be entertaining in a corporate sphere is both baffling and simply wrong. Humour is the great connector. When people are laughing they are locked in the present.
You can also establish rapport by tailoring moments in your presentation to the room. Have a look at the attendee list when you arrive (if you don’t know the room) and make sure you give a shout-out. If you know people’s names, use them and acknowledge them. For example, Cecil could have said in his presentation: ‘We’ve got some of the New Zealand team here today. Murray, Rejinder and Matthew, thank you so much for coming over, we look forward to hearing a bit about the state of the NZ market later in the day.’
Knowing a bit about your audience also helps to establish trust because it demonstrates that you are prepared. You’ve made a real effort not to just crank out a rote speech, like a machine.
It also signals to the audience, that you are the expert and what you are going to say will have real relevance to them. Humour and humility also play a part in engendering trust. Bypassing jargon and using real, everyday language immediately shows that you are authentic and sincere.
The flip-side of the coin is to actively show that you value your audience. If you know members of the audience have real insight, call on them to add something. ‘Matthew, could you please remind the group where your team was ranked last quarter? First in the market, that’s brilliant!’
Or when questions are asked, don’t be lazy with the same framer, but change it up and make sure you acknowledge that person. You could say something like:
‘Wow, that’s a really insightful comment.’
‘Thank you, Jane, that’s a considered question.’
‘Hmmmm .. that question that Pete asks is a very complex one.’
It shows that you are actively listening,that you are engaged with what your audience is saying and acknowledges that they bring something of merit to the table.
Eye contact is also an essential aspect of building trust. And resist the temptation to address your presentation towards the people who are smiling and nodding back at you. Sharing your attention around the room equally – applying ‘eye democracy’ – is required.
Great relationships, great presentations
Creating a great relationship throughout the course of a presentation, isn’t about demonstrating to the world that you have superior communication skills. It should convey something much more important: that every single person you encounter is worthy of complete and utter respect and you will strive to show that by giving a considered and mindful presentation. If you would like to know more about how you can entertain, engage and educate your audience, you should download our guide to creating a memorable presentation today.
The Colin James Method® coaches and trains executives and corporates to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.
Erica Bagshaw is an entrepreneur, Executive Coach and Co-Founder of The Colin James Method® and Inner Profit Pty Ltd a vibrant leadership development company in Australia. She has spent the majority of her career growing and developing close client partnerships. She loves sharing her expertise on the perfect pitch.