Every time you stand in front of a group, you must achieve two basic goals. First, you need to communicate a message. And second, you need to communicate your personality — who you are as a professional and an individual. If “the medium is the message,” your personality is the window through which the message must travel to be received, understood and acted upon by the audience.
You convey your message and your personality every day of your life in relaxed conversation. And relaxed conversation is, therefore, your best possible communication style.
By understanding the following principles, you can sharpen the skills youʼve acquired one-on-one and transfer those skills to group presentations, thereby increasing your effectiveness in both.
YOUR BEST STYLE IS RELAXED CONVERSATION
Every day of your life, you convey your mes- sages and your personality while engaged in conversation. You should therefore emulate conversation in your presentations. Youʼre not there to "download" information. You are there to create understanding that is based on a two-way exchange, and to facilitate an environment in which people can apply what you tell them to their personal or professional life.
If you see a puzzled expression, donʼt wait for them to ask a question. Handle it the same way you would in a conversation. Ask them if there is something you can explain more effectively.
Allow questions throughout your presenta- tions. But be brief with your answers. Ques- tions are an opportunity to create milestones of mutual understanding. But remember, you pass milestones. You donʼt camp at them.
You are unique. You have your own way of speaking and your own mannerisms -- how you talk, how you stand, how you hold your hands. To convey your personality to a group, you must express yourself in a man- ner similar to the ways in which you express yourself one-on-one. If you are expressive with your hands one-on-one, it's OK to be expressive with your hands when talking to a group. In fact, it's essential.
You know it's important to be on your best behavior. You know there are certain stan- dards that you must meet. You must dress appropriately. You must be attentive when someone asks a question. You must answer the question.
But worry less about how you "present" your- self, than how you communicate with the members of the group. Your body language must be natural. And what is natural for you is probably not natural for someone else, or vice-versa, which is why we hesitate in set- ting rules for gestures you should use or the body language you should attempt to convey.
To understand this, think of the gestures you make when you are enthusiastically explain- ing a concept to a friend over the telephone. Who are these gestures for? The person on the other end? Understand that these ges- tures are part of who you are as an individ- ual. Bring them to your presentations and let them happen naturally.
RELAXED CONVERSATION IS TWO- WAY
To be effective, relaxed conversation must be two-way. Indeed, by definition, all communi- cation must be two-way.
Even if one person does most of the talking in a conversation, he or she is looking for the nods, listening for the "uh-huhs," and stop- ping to answer questions. The sender quickly recognizes that a blank look means the receiver is not listening. He or she will respond by changing tactics -- pausing to let the listener catch up or asking if there is a question.
Your presentations, like your conversations, must be two-way. If you treat people with respect, and create a two-way process in which their questions are answered clearly and concisely, you stand a better chance of having them use or act on the information you present.
RELAXED CONVERSATION IS RECEIVER-DRIVEN
In a relaxed conversation, the speed at which information goes from sender to receiver is driven by the receiver's needs, not the sender's. During a conversation, if the per- son listening doesn't signal that he or she understands — with a "nod" or by saying "uh- huh" — the sender stops to create a mile- stone of mutual understanding before moving on. If the sender doesnʼt do this, the receiver will stop listening.
The same applies to your presentations. If you talk nonstop, you will quickly lose your audience. Instead, make sure the informa- tion youʼre sending is driven by the audi- enceʼs needs, not yours. If you throw out an idea that creates puzzled expressions, itʼs probably a good time to stop and ask: “Are there any questions?”.
LESS IS MORE
The less you say, the more your audience remembers. If you try to cram too much in- formation into your presentations, you will not create a two-way exchange. And you cer- tainly wonʼt be receiver-driven. How can you be? The speed at which information travels from you to the audience is not driven by their need for understanding, but your need to get through it all in time.
If you have one hour for your presentation, bring 30 minutes of information. This leaves plenty of time for questions, enables you to finish on time or a bit early, and allows you time for networking at the end.
PEOPLE CAN LISTEN OR THEY CAN THINK,
BUT THEY CANʼT DO BOTH
As human beings, we can listen or we can think. But virtually none of us can listen and think at the same time. By definition, this means that you must “pause” when delivering your presentations. And those pauses must be as full and as frequent in your presenta- tions as they are in your conversations.
You want your seminars to be thought- provoking. You want people to think about what youʼre saying and apply it to their per- sonal situation. But while theyʼre thinking, if youʼre talking, they wonʼt hear a word you say.
If you talk nonstop, members of the audience will miss large portions of what you say.
Theyʼll rush to catch up once or twice. After that, theyʼll give up. And, if they give up, your chances of doing further business with them decreases proportionately.
PEOPLE WONʼT REMEMBER WHAT YOU SAY
Participants at your presentations will not re- member your exact words. Instead, they will remember what they thought about what you said — how they took your information and applied it to their frame of reference.
But this process can only occur in silence, whether you give them that silence, or they take it for themselves. And remember, if they take that silence while youʼre talking, they wonʼt hear a word you say.
BE CONVERSATIONAL IN YOUR DELIVERY
If youʼve ever read the transcript of an inter- view or conversation, youʼve probably noticed that people rarely talk in complete sentences. And if you participated in the conversation from which the transcript was drawn, you were probably shocked at what you saw writ- ten down.
There is a basic pattern in relaxed conversa- tion. In the first step, which we refer to as the first pause, the sender thinks about what he or she is going to say. Once the idea is formed, the sender expresses it. If the sender is enthusiastic, the words come tum- bling out at a rapid rate of word delivery.
Once the idea is delivered, the sender stops talking and allows the listener to absorb the idea and relate it to a meaningful frame of reference. During this second pause, the sender watches and listens for the receiverʼs reaction. Once there is a nod or “uh-huh”, the sender forms the next idea. And so on.
THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK
In a conversation, you take time to form each thought before you say it. You should at- tempt to do the same thing at your seminars, although that can be much more difficult be- cause of the impact of adrenaline. But stop talking. Think through the thought. Start talking again.
Use good notes. Focus on delivering one idea at a time. This will get you off to a strong start. And, as for nervousness, by en- couraging questions, you take the emphasis off a presentation and switch it to an ex- tended conversation. Never forget that the greatest reducer of nervousness in public
speaking is a question or two that you can answer clearly and concisely.
SILENCE IS ESSENTIAL
There are two types of silence. The first is for you to think. This is the first pause. In a conversation, after you express each idea, you look to see if the other person has “got- ten it”. Again, you do so while pausing. We call this the second pause. The first pause is for you to think. The second is for them to think.
During your presentations, remember that youʼre not there to prove that you can talk nonstop. Youʼre there to provide information that people can think about and apply to their own personal circumstances. But remember, they can only think in silence — whether you provide that silence or they take it for them- selves.
If you lose your place or your audience, pause. If youʼre lost, the pause allows you to think about where you are, where youʼre go- ing, and what you need to say. If theyʼre lost, the pause will help them find their way back so they can listen to your ideas again, and relate those ideas to their personal frame of reference.