Public Speaking at its heart is simply communication with a group, and it requires many of the same skills needed to communicate effectively with individuals.
Capture your audience’s attention and help them retain your presentation information by effectively communicating with each of them using these tips and tools.
Read and respond to your audience.
Just as in a one-on-one conversation, your public speaking presentation must respond and adjust to the needs of the audience. Do they understand your content? Are they interested in the content?
Non-verbal body language cues from your audience often reveal inattention and confusion. Has your audience glazed over? Are they making eye contact with you, or looking around the room? Are they talking with each other, or checking their smart phones?
If appropriate, ask questions of the audience to get feedback and encourage interaction. Pull the audience into the presentation by encouraging involvement. Change your presentation style until you find a format that works for your unique group.
Communication between two people is usually bi-directional. Respond to your audience to make your presentation bi-directional, too.
Listening to a presentation on a single topic for more than 20 minutes is like getting caught at a dinner party with “that guy.” Don’t be “that guy.”
The attention span of an adult is limited to 20 minutes, and for some people, it is much shorter. If you have been presenting for longer than 20 minutes, then part of your audience has already drifted off.
Change the focus of your presentation at least every 20 minutes to keep your audience engaged. Change the format by including videos, activities, or games. Pass around objects, tell stories. Inject humor. Ask your audience to read or write. Get creative.
Capture their attention with your presentation style.
Talking at the same speed and pitch for the entire presentation will lose an audience even with the most exciting content.
Keep them interested by walking around the room or gesticulating. Change pitch or inflection, or add pauses to emphasize certain points. Animate your expressions and movements. Again, remember to incorporate humor or stories to keep it entertaining, just as you would hold the interest of a friend in a personal conversation.
The proper role of PowerPoint
Many presenters compete with their PowerPoint presentations for the attention of their audience. This is a losing battle as it inevitably ends in splitting the audience’s attention and creating distractions that dilute core messaging and ideas.
PowerPoint should complement and reinforce your presentation, not take center stage.
Most commonly, presenters include far too much text on their slides. If your audience is busy reading a slide, they aren’t listening to you.
Make your PowerPoint slides scannable. Use no more than 5 words per bullet point and no more than 6 bullets per slide. Better yet, put no text on your slide. Research has found that audiences retain pictures far better than words. If you want them to have the text, give it to them in a handout instead.
For more public speaking techniques see our Public Speaking classes.