In Part 1 of this series, we covered the topics of setting the stage and engaging with the learners as they enter the room. If you missed that article, click here: Part 1.
There are a few administrative things we are often required to do at the beginning of a program such as workplace safety information or a program outline and while they are important, they are very ‘beige’ and can take energy out of our group. It would be ideal if someone else covered this for us, but in the absence of this we must make sure we deliver the information with the same passion and presence we intend to go on with. Commence the actual presentation with a relevant and provocative question to the group, or perhaps a story which illustrates the importance of your topic. Some writers in this area suggest we start our presentation with the conclusion or bottom line and work our way back to that point over the rest of the presentation. I’ve never tried this, but I can see the logic. A nice circular argument. A strong start is essential. Win them over to your topic – and yourself, right out of the gate.
Use your body
It is important to tell the story with our gestures, our face, our posture and our position. Part of our stage presence is our connection with the individuals in the group, so make eye contact with them as much as possible. In large groups it is harder to make eye contact with individuals, but that’s okay, we can scan the room, front to back and left to right. The key is to not be looking at our notes, our slides or our shoes. We shouldn’t forget the importance of a smile. It bonds you with the group, calms everyone and builds a sense of safety and trust. If the topic doesn’t lend itself to a smile, then we must make sure our face conveys the correct emotion.
What about our hands? Are they adding to our presence or detracting from it? One study found that the most popular TED Talkers used over 450 gestures while the less popular ones used about 270. The listener gives 12.5 times more weight to our hand gestures than to our words, so use them well. When presenting, our gestures should be slightly exaggerated, especially with large groups. We need to keep them above our waist, but not in front of our face. Don’t forget to slow your gestures down to give greater emphasis.
Our stance should be open, commanding and confident. Posture is important. Stand straight, eyes looking at the group, feet slightly apart and pointing forwards. Imaging a string pulling the top of your head toward the sky. Below I’ve listed a number of negative stances. There may be occasions and contexts where they are acceptable, but they should be minimised:
- The “fig leaf” (hands clasped straight down in front of us) displays weakness and fear. So, the only time we might want to stand like this is to portray vulnerability or timidity.
- Having our hands behind our back could be viewed as thoughtful, but it might also be perceived as being superior or arrogant. So, we might do this if we were contemplating someone’s statement and formulating a reply. But only until we begin to give our reply.
- Standing with our hands in our pockets can come across as too casual. It may be useful to break down barriers, or, while we are listening to someone in the group, but shouldn’t be overused.
- Having our arms crossed appears cold and closed off, with an air of superiority. Sometimes it comes across as fear (putting up a barrier). We might stand like this momentarily to indicate that we are not convinced by another’s argument, but don’t hold that position for long.
- Some experts suggest hanging our hands by our side with no movement, to me this just doesn’t look natural, and I would say it lacks any expression.
When we are delivering, we should place equal weight on both legs (power and presence), without tilting to either side, unless we are listening or thinking. We can also lean into our audience (slightly) as this shows enthusiasm and engagement.
An actor varies the pitch, speed and volume of their voice to give meaning and emphasis to what they are saying. Like an actor, our voice should display enthusiasm and emotion. Gaps and pauses in our speech can give ‘weight’ to what we are saying. To balance that however, there shouldn’t be any awkward, long silences. We need to learn to talk through any unintended silences – for example, when we are adjusting a piece of equipment, or waiting for pre-recorded media to load – we need to practice the art of “confident banter.” When we have something important to say, we need to remove all other distractions. For example, we should blank the PowerPoint presentation, move to our anchor point (see Part 1) and let all eyes focus on us. A lower tone of voice conveys depth and purpose to the words we speak. That doesn’t mean we should fake a baritone voice for the duration of the presentation, but nervousness often results in a higher pitch, so managing our nerves will help our vocal tone convey an authority and presence.
We need to be comfortable enough with what we are presenting to enable us to focus on how we are presenting. To use our body and our voice to give weight and authority to our presentation. In the final part of this series I will focus on what I consider to be the more complex skills such as observing the group, being bigger, storytelling and working the stage.
Article by Adam Le Good, Director of Fundamental Training and Development
For help to develop the presentation skills of staff, contact Fundamental Training and Development: firstname.lastname@example.org.