Thursday, 30 September 2021
Create a notebook you can take along to all workshops, training sessions, talks and lectures you attend as an audience member. For each event, draw a line down the middle of the page. On one side, record any examples of rhetoric that makes the talk particularly memorable to you; on the other, note the strategies the speaker uses to engage you – perhaps it’s their gestures, tone, body language, pauses, facial expressions, humour, invitations to participate in questions or votes or use of facts to surprise or shock. Record too anything a presenter says or does which has an unintended effect – one of sending the audience to sleep. Note them, and commit to removing those traits from your own deliveries.
In the lead up to delivering your presentation, you’ve probably done tons of research, fact-checking and fiddling around with slides until they look the business. A common mistake, says Sara Parsons, is failing to build in time to consider how you’re going to deliver the presentation in a way that makes and impact in the allotted time. “Some people think that their slide deck is their presentation,” she says. “In reality, what you actually say and how you say it is what will be remembered, so make sure you’ve given it thought.”
How do you know if your presentation is having the desired impact? Seek feedback from your audience. Ask your boss or colleague what elements of your presentation they remember, which hooks they took away or what their lasting impressions were.
“If it doesn’t fit, get rid of it,” says Sara Parsons. Don’t keep in slides because one of your co-presenters will feel bad if it’s deleted. Never add in extra stats and facts to make up the time if all that’s doing is diluting your message. Be crystal clear why everything included is there, and if the reason is anything other than that it will interest your audience, ditch it. “Your objective is to make people remember your key message, so know what that is (If you’re not sure, your audience definitely won’t be) and work backwards, asking yourself why every inclusion will help make that message stick,” says Sara Parsons. Another way to self-edit is to ask yourself, “If I only had 60 seconds on the stage, what would I absolutely have to say?” Everything you add beyond that is simply about bringing that key message to life.
When you present to an audience, your goal is to persuade them of something – perhaps your professional opinion on something, a plan of action or an interpretation of data. Aristotle talked about persuasion as having three key pillars: ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion) and logos (logic). And the best presenters, says Sara Parsons, draw on a combination of all three components in order to make the strongest impact. An opener like “Having spent a year leading this project, I’m excited to finally be able to share some of our initial results with you” is a great way to stamp your authority and highlight why you’re the very best person to impart the findings. Logic can be added with some insightful numbers and statistics, which, in turn, can be brought to life with emotion – the short stories you can tell which will highlight why your audience should care about those numbers.