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How do you keep your audience engaged during your presentation?

Updated: Jul 13, 2023

Have you heard of Death by Powerpoint?? Have you ever experienced it? Painful isn’t it.


As you sit there counting the minutes until the presentation is over and mentally preparing tonight’s tea, do you ever spare a thought for the poor speaker? How many hours did they spend preparing for this? How many sleepless nights did they spend worrying about it? All for it to lead to this moment when they’ve lost you within minutes of starting to speak.


No one sets out to deliver a presentation that’s dull as dishwater. It’s not their fault. They’ve never been shown how to properly engage their audience.


Why do we rely so much on PowerPoint?


When it’s all you’ve ever known you’re bound to head straight for Power Point when preparing for a presentation. But why do we feel that need?

  1. The audience expect it

  2. You want to look professional

  3. It helps you remember what you want to say

Put simply, it’s a crutch and the more you rely on it, the more effort you put into your visuals, the less time you put into improving your delivery.



You are the message


In a recent blog I talked about how 93% of the impact of your message comes from your delivery - 55% body language and 38% your voice. It’s a much mis quoted communication study by Albert Mehrabian about the words we say and how we say it affects the impact of our message when they are incongruent - meaning they don't match.


Example


A Managing Director is giving an end of year review and says they've had their best ever year and how happy she is with everyone - but her face looks tense and she's folding her arms... something doesn't look right. Employees watching and listening may be concerned she's not telling the truth.


So let’s break this down into simple terms and see how it works:


Body language 55%


1 | Eye contact


If you’re freaking out about speaking I know the last thing you want to do is look at your audience. But, if you’re not looking at them it may look like you’re not interested in them so they’ll start to switch off.


Top tip - focus on your audience to create a strong connection and it will help you to relax. Aim to look at a different person every 3 seconds, just enough to make them feel like you’re speaking directly to them without making it awkward.


2 | Posture


Your physical state has a big impact on your mental state. Watch this Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy where she shares the science behind body language and explains how power poses boost your energy before a presentation or meeting. I nip to the toilet to do mine where no one can see me!


Top tip - start your talk with your feet planted hip distance apart, hands by your side and shoulders relaxed. This stance shows your audience you look confident and also sends a signal to your brain to feel confident. It also stops you shuffling nervously about or the first few seconds creating the wrong impression.


3 | Hands


Most people worry about what to do with their hands. They either don’t use them at all or end up flapping around not really saying anything at all. Purposeful hand gestures are vital to reinforce the impact of the words you are saying.


Top tip - be BOLD with your gestures. If you’re describing a HUGE transformation make sure you exaggerate and show how huge it was with your hands. This makes it memorable for your audience and makes them look at you instead of your slides.


Voice 38%


1 | Pace


One of the most common mistakes people make when presenting is speaking too fast. They are SO nervous and want to get it over with. So they speak as quickly as possible to get through the presentation and sit down breathing a sigh of relief that they survived.


Unfortunately this makes matters worse because speaking quickly makes you feel anxious and also means your audience can’t follow what you’re saying and they switch off.


Top tip - aim to speak half your normal speed to keep your audience with you. Practice recording yourself on video and watch it back to see the impact when you slow down. Notice how much calmer and more confident you feel too.


2 | Pitch


When Margaret Thatcher came into power as prime minister in 1979 she had a high pitch voice and she was not taken seriously. She was coached by Satchi & Satchi to lower her voice to give her more gravitas (watch The Iron Lady) which increased her influence over the majority male cabinet.


Top tip - when you want to make a serious message speak slow and low. If you want to get your audience excited you can use a higher pitch. Changes in pitch keep your audience interested like being on a rollercoaster. One tone throughout a presentation is guaranteed to send your audience to sleep.


3 | Pauses


Ever noticed when people say “erm” a lot in presentations? The reason for this is usually because they are speaking too quickly and their brain doesn’t have time to think. Adding pauses into your talk gives you time to think and makes you appear more credible because you are delivering information in a much more measured way.


Top tip - practice adding 3 second pauses at the end of each key point to allow your audience to absorb what you’ve said. Count in your head until you get used to how long 3 seconds is - it’s longer than you think!


Which of these areas do you need to improve in? If you practice and keep improving these 6 key points you will drastically improve your engagement with your audience and it will start to increase your confidence too.


If you want some support and accountability why not join a speaking club or sign up for the Bold Voices Academy? Click here to find out more.


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