Eye Contact Enables Audience Engagement

Eye contact is essential when you want to look confident and credible. A business presentation should be more like a conversation than a performance. In a conversation you make eye contact.

When you seek eye contact with your audience, you become more believable and credible in Western cultures.

Here are some tips to become an effective “eye contact” presenter.

If you’re too nervous to look in the eyes: Look at the person between the eyebrows. This will give you a start in making eye contact. When you look at someone between the eyebrows, the person experiences you looking in the eyes.

Draw an imaginary triangle: Draw an imaginary inverted triangle on the other person’s face around their eyes and mouth. During the conversation, change your gaze every five to ten seconds from one point on the triangle to another.

End a sentence looking at someone: Train yourself to at least end your sentences looking at someone. Then count to three before you look away. Do not look at the screen, laptop, or your notes when you complete your sentences.

Make some words a cue to look: As you say the word “you” be sure to be looking at someone. This is a must!

Focus your conversation: As you look at one person, imagine there is no one else in the room. The person you are looking at is the most important person right now, and you are giving him or her all of your attention. Then go on to someone else in the room. Each person will feel special.

How to Practice

With people: Practice in meetings.

Alone: Make the objects in the room different people so you get used to ending a sentence looking at the chair, the clock, the screen, etc. Then make sure you complete your sentences looking at objects on both sides of the room. Many presenters tend to look at one side of the room three-fourths of the time. Train yourself not to do this. Be random as you look at people.

All the time: In daily life start looking and talking to one person at a time. Become comfortable doing this. Then when you get up to talk, you will already have the habit.

Pauses Increase Your Executive Presence

Presenters who lose the audience frequently have these two issues.

No pauses: Presenters never pause and stop for silence at the end of a point or at the end of a sentence. This one behavior makes it very hard for an audience to digest what you are saying. You’ll give the appearance that you are hurried, lack confidence, and do not want any questions.

Filler words: Filler words are the byproduct of a speaker never pausing. The speaker keeps going and uses “um” to breathe. Many speakers are shocked when they see the number of “um’s” they say. They were completely unaware of them while presenting.

My Dare to You

I dare you to tape yourself when presenting, giving a webinar, speaking at a meeting, or talking on the phone. Notice when you pause. If you don’t, are these your justified reasons?

“I came from a big family and if I did not keep talking someone else took over.” (You are not talking to your family. You’re in business.)

“I have so much to tell people that I need every second.” (But because you’re going so fast, most people stop listening to you. Maybe, if you told them less and paused to give them a moment to digest what you are saying, they would keep listening.)

Here’s the quick way to fix an “um” problem. This solution enables you to start hearing your “um’s” so you can stop them.

Get help: This is a particular kind of help. Practice your presentation or just start talking and ask someone to make a noise every time you say “um.” You won’t like it, but this is the fastest way I’ve seen people get over this habit. Do this with someone 30 minutes a week and you’ll kick this habit. Or ten minutes a day for two weeks. Why? You will start to hear your “um’s” and, once you hear them, you can stop them.

What you will love once you stop your “um’s” is that you will have more time to relax between thoughts. You will be better at categorizing and talking about what’s important. Your brain will slow down and you can be more present to your audience.

If you just have an issue with pausing, you can have your partner raise a hand every time you could pause at the end of the sentence. Count to three in your head and then start again.

Getting More Sleep

At least half the participants in my Get to the Message workshop raise their hands when I ask, “How many of you slept less than six hours last night?” What’s wrong with this? Here are some characteristics of people who do not sleep enough. Many sleep-deprived people have racing thoughts, talk rapidly, are easily distracted, in a state of mania, and have trouble focusing on the details and big picture at the same time.

What do sleep-deprived presenters do? They create too many detailed slides that do not present a cohesive message. They work really hard but the end result is an unpersuasive, rambling set of slides. They cannot answer these important questions: What story are you telling? What are your three key messages? How does each slide advance your story and messages?

Don’t waste your time going around in circles with your presentation—instead, sleep so you can be focused.

And if you haven’t had enough sleep but are putting together a presentation? Stop! Don’t dive right into the slides. First organize your key messages and storyline, and then create the slides.

Sleep Checklist–Do One This Week

  1. Turn off all electronic devices an hour before you go to sleep.
  2. Do something calming before bed: deep breathing, stretches, a cup of herbal tea.
  3. Take a walk outside.
  4. Create a short bedtime ritual, for example, a cup of tea, four minutes stretching, five minutes meditating.

For more ideas: Huffington Post “37 Science-Backed Tips for Better Sleep Tonight”

Manage Your Presentation Stress, Don’t Just Worry

Here’s some advice from a psychologist, Sian Beilock, on how to perform better under pressure. Let’s apply it to your worries about an upcoming presentation.

Take a walk: Have you ever been very anxious or upset and then taken a walk? It probably calmed you down. After your walk you’ll feel calmer and wonder why you were so upset in the first place.

Change your self-talk: Instead of telling yourself; “I am so anxious. I hope I do OK,” say, “I am excited and I can feel it. This means I’m going to sound energetic.”

Write down your worries before an event: This gets them out of your mind. I suggest you write them down when you first learn you will be giving the presentation that worries you.

Sian’s book: How the Body Knows Its Mind

WORRIES

WHEN YOU LEARN YOU’RE GIVING A TALK

Time: “I don’t have time to put this together.” Make a plan to get it done.
Help: “I don’t have all the information.” Write down who can actually give you information or guide you to it.
Experience: “I’ve never talked in front of this many people.” Find a coach to give you some pointers, or go on line and look up advice for speaking to 300 people.
PowerPoint: “I really don’t know how to make effective slides.” Find someone in your company to help or hire a PowerPoint expert. Compare costs.
Travel: “I hope the plane arrives on time.” Never book the last plane out–you’ll be in for guaranteed stress.

THE WEEK BEFORE

Rehearsal: “I never really rehearse my talks. I wing it.” Rehearse many times alone, and with colleagues or a presentation coach. IT WILL CALM YOU DOWN.
Logistics: “I don’t know what the room will be like.” Ask to see the room when you arrive or get there early enough to scope out the room.
Sleep: “I don’t have time to sleep.” The studies are out there. To be effective you need at least 7 hours of sleep–and 8 is even better.

Make Your Whole Presentation a Story

We all know that after listening to a presentation we frequently don’t remember the key points and how they fit together. I was just in a workshop where we practiced repeating or rephrasing what someone said. It became obvious that the people who talked in a more story manner were easier to remember. People who talked without setting up a story or some type of structure were very difficult even to paraphrase. This experience further convinced me that “storytelling” is the way to go. Here’s a very simple storytelling model designed so people can better remember what you said during a presentation.

TWO EXAMPLES

THE MANUFACTURING PROJECT

Context: We are losing millions due to the inefficient manufacturing processes.
Before: Our products now take twice as long to get to market as our competition.
Plot Point: We propose to modernize our manufacturing processes.
After: This modernization will let us cut in half our time to market with new products.
Wrap Up: This is easily achievable and we believe we can increase sales by 20%.

THE PERSONAL STORY

Context: Never underestimate the power of transformation.
Before: As a child I lived in poverty in Columbia.
Plot Point: Through miraculous events I came to the US and attended university.
After: Although living in the US, I have created and built a pre-school in my town in Columbia so the children can be educated and rise out of poverty.
Wrap Up: Your $500 contribution fully supports one child for one year.

Look Poised and Confident

Do you want to have your audience on your side before you even speak? Then look the part of a confident, in-charge presenter: stand straight, shoulders are back and open, head is free, weight is balanced between both feet. How do you get that “executive presence” look? Your body needs to become it. Two yoga classes or two weight training classes a week will give you a more confident stance.

People see you before you open your mouth. Start now to make sure your body looks the part. Learn more about this picture from Leland Vall who teaches the Alexander Technique. The head goes forward and up in relation to the torso which goes back and up.

ANALYZE YOUR SLIDES

Here’s the best way to really see if your slides’ content is organized, they look professional and help tell your story.

Print all your slides, lay all of them out on a table and look at them.

First, look at the content across the slides. Is the content organized or do you have the same ideas on many slides spread throughout the presentation?

Second, look at the slide layouts. Are they varied or do you have 8 charts in a row, 6 different graphics in a row, only slides with text bullets and no graphics?

Third, make sure you have engaging, informative titles that help you tell your story and emphasize your key messages.

Professional-looking slides increase your delivery success in engaging your audience.

Cut Out the Non-Essential Details

When executives listen to a presentation, they tend to get frustrated when presenters dive too deep into the details. To help you stay on the message — ask yourself these 3 questions before including a piece of information.

  1. What does my audience need to know about this topic?
  2. What would I like to tell them (but should cut out)?
  3. What pieces of information will reinforce my key messages?

Unfortunately we have to keep most of our expertise and knowledge to ourselves and only spend time on the information the audience needs to know. However, when we do this, we’re sure to engage them!

Stop Scuba Diving into Unnecessary Details

Your audience is smiling at you. You relax. You realize they are delighted you are not going to overwhelm them with details like the last speaker! You finally have figured out just the right amount of details to share.

If you are still concerned about the amount of details you present, start thinking about your content this way.

High-Level: You will give a high level overview of some of the information.

Skim Surface: You will skim the surface on some details you audience needs to know. For example, you will share certain key numbers.

Details: You will share the details (which I call scuba diving) only when they are essential to elaborate on your key messages.

Most people “scuba dive” into details without even thinking about their audience’s need to know.

The next time you are talking in a meeting or giving a formal presentation, keep asking yourself,

“Do I really need to tell them this?”

“Will this information help them make a decision or just confuse them?”

Be the person who shares the right level of details so you audience stays engaged and wants to hear more!

Visualize Your Success

You need to practice visualization before a presentation.

First a quote from the author Olivia Fox Cabane of The Charisma Myth.

“I find that doing even thirty seconds of visualization makes a substantial difference to my performance. It greatly affects how charismatic I am on stage.”

I do use her visualization technique when speaking. Beyond my work presentations, it was especially useful when I was the MC for a wedding and when I had to give a eulogy. In both situations I felt in charge of my body and emotions and was able to connect to the audience.

Better yet I’m now using it when I go out Argentine Tango Dancing. For the last three times I have gone out dancing I have done a two minute visualization of the evening. My experiences these three times have surpassed any other dance experiences. I have danced with dancers who have never asked me. I have had amazing dances…been kissed on the check–been told I was fantastic etc. etc.

I invite you to have your own experience of using visualization. Buy her book and try it out. Your successes will amaze you and your audiences!!!

Where is Your Concentration?

From self-conscious to audience-conscious

Thomas Hayes, a visionary, author, and motivational speaker, shares how he manages his nerves. With an iron will forged out of the tragic experience of losing a leg to cancer in childhood, Hayes has a compelling history to share with his audiences. Here are his secrets to being present in the moment with his audience.

What is the best way you have learned to channel your nervousness?

When I am waiting I focus myself in the moment. I watch what is happening. I look at the lighting. I sense how the sound system is working. I watch where the audience’s attention is: on themselves, on the food? Are they preoccupied? I take all of my attention away from myself.

What is your secret for calming down and being with your audience?

Intention is my secret. When I make it my intention to give something to the audience, then I have all the power. If your intention as a speaker is to receive, then you are trying to get something. You have given the audience all the power. When I watch an open-mike night, I see young comedians who are always thinking about themselves. They are focused on receiving laughs and applause. They have to shift from receiving to giving.

What is your one sentence about being with your audience?

Change your attention and shift from self-conscious to audience-conscious.