You've heard it before: before you present, learn as much about the audience as you can. Gaining information about your listeners positions you to know what to say and that which you need to delete from your script. If you proceed with making a presentation without knowing exactly who is in front of you, then it can be like blindly poking and jabbing with your threaded needle in search of the right opening to affix a button. With this presentation preparation, you will know which points you should strongly emphasize, and you will know what might be hot topics that should be avoided. (Of course, politics, religion, and money are always off the table ... unless, of course you are giving something like a financial planning workshop, but I digress. Besides, you know what I mean!) When you learn as much as you can about the audience beforehand, you have a good idea of how much foundational information to provide and how deep of a dive in which you need to go to establish definitions and a framework so everyone is on the same page. Okay. Sounds good, right? But how exactly is that done? There are three stages involved with finding out who will be in your audience and how to work toward tailoring a message that will sew seeds of good ideas and resonate with your participants.
In Fall 2018, one of my first-year college roommates (and for those of you who know me well, no, I'm not talking about my sister-in-law ... for those of you who haven't heard this story, the roommate I had during my second, third, and fourth years of college also became my sister-in-law!), celebrated the release of her first book that is a memoir as well as a tribute to the history of modern soul food.
In it, she includes stories about being in the kitchen with her grandmother, having a high school crush, and growing up in Texas with her two sisters plus over 50 recipes sure to speak to the heart and sufficiently fill the belly. In the fall of 2018, she was invited to an expo to read excerpts from her book and ended up bawling before her audience. BAWLING!
She quickly wrote me, asking if it was normal to feel overwhelmed and to full-on cry during a speaking engagement. I told her ...
There is so much you want to cover and only so much time to do it. Subconsciously, you want your audience to fall as deeply in love with your topic as you are already in love with it. This tends to cause a problem.
But just a second … this is not to suggest there is something wrong with wanting your audience to find the same value in your content as you find in it. The challenge lies in this desire propelling you to share and share and share to the point you end up rambling, rambling, and rambling. By going off on tangents or losing your train of thought, you also lose your effectiveness and diminish your power with all of the spins and twirls and ups and downs and twists and turns you put in your message.
Everyone, I want you to look at a presentation this way: even if you know only 10% of what there is to know about a topic on which you are presenting, for the most part, that is inextricably more than what your audience knows about the topic. That right there should make your chest stick out at least an inch!
View yourself as the expert, and think that way before and throughout your presentation. It will build you up, and it helps reduce anxiety and lessen your worries about judgment. And another attitude to consider when working to get rid of your nerves and to boost your confidence is if people want to be so judgmental, then they should get up in the front of the room and try to do what you are doing. (Yes. There was some attitude there, but ... well ... that's simply my view on the matter.)
Do you recall that time you were totally psyched and jazzed about a presentation after you read the title and description of the presentation, both of which sounded down-right delicious?
You were ready.
Could not wait!
You thought, "This is going to be a winner! For sure!"
And then ...
The presentation starts, and you feel let-down. It's like cutting into that amazing piece of fruit you scored at the local market only to take a bite that tastes ... well ... you know ... not so great.
You cannot put your finger on why the presentation is seemingly lackluster and why you have lost your motivation to listen. But what you do know is the impact of the presentation has been lessened, and it happened within the first few minutes. It made you think, "Whatever that was, if I ever present, I want to make sure I never do it!"
I will tell you exactly what happened and, most importantly, four steps to ensure you avoid it.
Oftentimes, we may think the bigger the opportunity, the greater possibility for mistakes to happen. Speaking in front of a group of 20 or even 200 can feel comfortable and completely natural, but what do you do when that audience increases 10-, 20-, or 50-fold? Do your nerves reciprocate? Are the challenges now insurmountable? Not so.
Granted, a different approach is necessary for larger audiences for your message to effectively reach everyone; however, with these four considerations, you will be able to master your message and deliver it with distinction regardless of the multitude of listeners before you.
Does this sound like you?
"I have so much information to cover until I don't know where to start, what to do, or how to do it!"
"My presentations are pretty good, but I want them to be great! I need a systematic plan so I'm not just going through the motions, muddling through."
"What will make a difference with my audience?! What will draw them in, and - and most importantly!!! - what will get everyone to buy what I'm selling?!"
What you must know is it is entirely possible to make your presentation an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for both you and your audience without it being more work for yourself.
Here are the four steps you take to smoothly make your way through preparing for your presentations with grace, determination, excitement, passion, and enthusiasm. Make this a consistent practice - resolve this is what you will do every time you prepare a presentation - and you will joyfully break free of the presentation preparation nightmare and cut your prep work by 50%.
Most people have quirks when they present. And I'm sure, although I have put forth great effort to be aware of quirks and eliminate them, I have one, or two, or three, or ...
As a matter of fact, I recall several years back I collaborated with a friend and colleague to facilitate a workshop in the Denver area, and his use of the phrase "what-not" apparently caught my attention because I did not realize until after the workshop and while reading one participant's feedback on her survey that I had picked up on his use of that phrase and had incorporated it into the last two sessions I presented at the workshop! She had actually sat and counted the number of times I had used it! *gasp* (And to be honest, I recalled, while I was presenting, seeing this particular person in the audience snickering at times that were obviously out of context. It was all starting to come together ... LOL!)
But my goodness! I could not believe it! In retrospect, I had caught the "what-not" bug and was using the phrase like crazy! I had never done that before! (At least I do not recall doing so!) My colleague's use of it subconsciously caused me to use it.
This is what happened: We converge with interlocutors that we like or that we want to like us. This colleague who is also a friend and is one with whom I have a great professional relationship, so based on this phonetic and social selectivity, it was natural I would pick up on one of his catch phrases and use it myself or that I would ... converge with an interlocutor!
As I thought about the workshop and this participant's feedback, I could not help but to wonder (and worry!) if her focus on counting my "what-not's" interfered with her actual learning. I wondered if my temporary presentation misstep consumed her and subsequently caused her to lose an opportunity to learn. What had I done?!
The greatest goal of any presentation is to ensure learning takes place and that participants take action based on what they learn, so I got to thinking ... What plans can I put in place beforehand to provide my audiences with the most awesome learning experience possible? I came up with three ideas.
Through a number of BMcTALKS blog posts, you are encouraged to get your audience members/students/learners engaged as soon as possible. I have been shouting from the front of rooms and computer screens to anyone who will listen, "Move them from passive to active audience members fast!
And a few brave colleagues have asked "Uh ... so ... Bridgett, how do you do that?" I should have seen that one coming, right?
Here are some of my favorite ways to get the audience involved so it's not a chalk-and-talk or a sit-and-get session. They require virtually no preparation, and you can easily and expertly insert them into any presentation or class session at any time when you ...
1. need everyone to truly think about and process what you said;
2. sense a lull; or
3. know you have been talking too much and it's time for everyone to hear another voice.
And with each technique, I provide you with additional ways to adjust and take the technique up a notch. Enjoy!
On January 27, 2017, I had the privilege of spending the day with several faculty members at Doña Ana Community College in Las Cruces, New Mexico, facilitating an edtech workshop entitled "Turn It App a Notch: Tools for a More Engaging iPad Educational Experience," and the richness of the conversations was mind-blowing!
Within the first minutes of the workshop, we began a conversation focused on what participants needed from me, the facilitator, and each other - essentially, their classmates - during the course of the workshop to make it a positive and productive experience for them.
And I want to pause now, and ask that you notice this breaking of patterns. Think back to the last time you attended a workshop; it is quite possible the facilitator had already reached conclusions about the participants' needs without actually gaining their input. Now, you might think "Bridgett, is that not ambitious and a bit challenging for the facilitator to wait until the actual workshop to get this information and then authentically and sincerely act upon it right there in front of a live audience?"
Yes, it can seem like a heavy weight on the shoulders and a high level of accountability; however, when you invite participants to make such a list, you show you care, and when you show you care, it makes it easier to accommodate the list of needs. Really! It does. It turns the workshop in to a conversation ... into an experience that makes everyone feel his/her interests and needs are in mind. And it feels SO GOOD to immediately hear participants' voices because the workshop is about them! It feels like standing back and gliding brush strokes of colors onto a blank canvas without worries of restricting borders or having to follow a set pattern!
Now back to the experience and how we REALLY discovered what it means to break some patterns in the classroom ...
I combined my pre-determined list with the participants' combined list of what they needed in order to have a beneficial learning experience in the workshop, and the amazing revelation at which we arrived was ...