Presenting … you
By Paul Gruhn
You have heard it all before; to make yourself more marketable, you need to broaden your skill sets. In more cases these days than we’d probably like, that means engineers are having to become marketers in their jobs. They are making more presentations and becoming more people-oriented.
In these tumultuous times, it is no good to just talk the talk. We need to start walking the walk; actually learn some skills, and start using them, in case we need to pull them out of our hats.
Keeping up appearances
People ultimately buy people, not ideas. Studies have shown your appearance is the single largest factor influencing the judgment of others. You might not think this is fair, but it is not so much what you say, as what you look like and how you sound when you say it.
If you are talking about a high-tech solution to a bunch of doctors, hopefully you are not dressed in jeans, with long hair and a beard. If you are talking to a group of plant technicians, you should not be dressed in a three-piece suit. People tend not to accept outsiders, so you might want to consider mirroring the image of your intended audience.
Let your body do the talking
I cannot stress this enough; you are the presentation, not your slides. You need to use your whole body to get the point across. Inflect your voice, use your hands, walk around the room, and jump up and down if it is appropriate. Speaking in a monotone with your hands in your pockets and your feet glued to the floor is not the way to influence anyone or create a good impression.
Keep podiums for formality
Podiums are usually appropriate only in formal presentations. I consider them a crutch. All they do is prevent you from moving around to get your point across. I recommend pushing the podium out of the way (off to the side and out of site if you can). There are times when standing beside the podium (if you can’t move it) makes you appear too informal. It may also move you out of the lighting, and the audience may not be able to see you as well. If it is a formal presentation, it is usually best to stay behind the podium.
Trust me; you will be amazed at what you see. The first time I did this myself, I was truly appalled. I spoke in a monotone, had my hands in my pockets jiggling keys, and did more bad things than I care to remember. Also, watch it with the sound turned down. You may have a wonderful voice, but your expressions may be wooden. Jackie Chan is entertaining even with the sound turned off; Chuck Norris is not.
Make yourself heard
Speak loudly and clearly and again, not in a monotone. Recording yourself, even with just an audio recorder is a great idea. You will probably be stunned (and possibly horrified) at what you hear. Depending on the room size and the strength of your voice, consider using a microphone. Avoid uhms, uhs, you knows, and other verbal fillers. These are usually totally unconscious, and you may not even know you are doing them unless someone tells you or your record yourself.
I once gave a talk to a group of about 50 people in a large room at a hotel. My host offered me a lapel microphone, but I declined thinking the room was within the range of my voice. My host also had me wear a small audio recorder and microphone so my talk and slides could be posted on their web site for later viewing. When I went to their web site later to listen to my talk, I cringed with embarrassment. It sounded like I was shouting; if the room’s large enough to need a microphone, use it.
Make eye contact
The audience needs to feel a connection with the speaker. So it is important to maintain eye contact. Look people in the eye for several seconds before moving on to someone else.
Things to avoid:
Maintaining eye contact with only one or two people in a room of 100 (and ignoring everyone else).
Maintaining eye contact for less than a second (and therefore never really connecting with anyone)
Maintaining eye contact with the wall (i.e., looking over people) or the floor.
I once attended a training session where the instructor spoke to the floor and spoke so quietly that no one could hear him. The audience quickly commented on his volume, and the host even brought in a headset microphone, but that only made the speaker talk even more quietly. A friend and I literally walked out of the session.
Like it or not, we all make decisions emotionally. It is important to connect with your audience. They need to know that you understand the issues they are facing. If you are happy just to get the opportunity to speak in front of a group that you have been vying after for some time, and you start beating your personal and company drum, the audience will tune you out quickly because they will realize you are not interested in helping them solve their problems at all. Heck, they may stop you and ask you to leave.
To create empathy, you need to speak to the heart. In order to do that, you must speak from your own. People can tell if you do not truly believe in what you are talking about.
Do not drone on and on like you have done this same presentation 100 times (even if you have). Throw your arms up in the air once in a while or tell a funny (but relevant) story to make people laugh. Remember, if you are sincerely excited about your topic, your listeners will walk away inspired, and you will have succeeded in giving a presentation worth remembering.
SOURCE: Sell More Through Effective Technical Presentations, 2nd Edition, By Paul Gruhn, ISA, 2008.
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