Use these seating strategies to wake up audience members—and keep them engaged during your presentation:
- Orient your presentation. Position yourself and your visuals against the long side of the room whenever possible. Reason: That way, the last row of seating will be as close to the action as possible.
- Don’t trap participants. Most people prefer to sit by aisles, so keep rows short or add an aisle down the middle. Avoid placing chairs next to walls, so people will not feel fenced in.
- Limit distractions. Inevitably, people will move about during the session to answer a phone, visit the restroom or seek refreshments. Reduce the damage those disruptions cause by making sure that no attendee has to squeeze past more than six people to arrive at a seat.
Hint: If you see a steady stream of people heading for the exits or the coffee table, remind your audience of the next scheduled break.
- Move them up. Don’t let attendees congregate at the back of the room. Force them to the front by placing “Reserved” signs on the back tables or seats. Alternatively, don’t put out chairs for seating in the rear. Keep chairs stacked until the front rows fill.
Note: Don’t tip up chairs to keep attendees from sitting in the back. People may trip over the chair legs as they walk forward into the room.
—Adapted from “Room Set-Up for Maximum Mirth,” Tom Antion, www.antion.com.
The human body contains more than 700 muscles, but many speakers ignore every muscle except the ones in their arms and fingers—which are busy grasping onto the speaker’s lectern, laser pointer or note cards.
Remember: Your success as a speaker depends not only on the words you say but also on the way your body language backs up your points. Because audience members are watching you so closely, in a way, your body language speaks “louder” than your words. Use these tips to make certain that your appearance, posture and gestures send the right message:
- Start with eye contact. Do more than pass your gaze throughout the room; focus on individual audience members and create bonds by looking each person directly in the eye for 5-10 seconds.
- Smile. Nothing else you can do will make you seem more confident and friendly than a warm and sincere smile.
- Tie in to the action of your message. No rule requires you to stand statically and use only your arms and hands. If you are using metaphor, like suggesting that the challenges you face are like running a marathon, jog a few steps.
- Stay true to your instincts. Others may suggest that you incorporate a specific gesture, or you may want to emulate a speaker you admire. If you copy someone else’s gesture, you may not seem natural while you do it.
— Adapted from “Gestures: Get Moving,” Toastmasters International, www.toastmasters.org.
Do not use Clip Art or other cartoonish line art when creating your PowerPoint presentations. Think about it. If the images are included in the software, it’s likely your audience has seen them already. Instead, choose professional-looking stock photos—or better, use images you’ve taken yourself. Your presentations will look much more professional as a result, and images of real people build a more emotional connection with the audience.
— Adapted from “Top 10 Slide Tips,” http://www.garrreynolds.com.
If the thought of delivering a presentation to a large audience fills you with dread, you’re hardly alone. When we asked readers “Which speaking situations do you find difficult?” 64% said “Presenting to a large group.”
Whether you are speaking to five people or 5,000, careful preparation and rehearsals will allow you to speak with greater confidence. When you are speaking to a large group, take these actions too:
- Speak to individuals. Instead of facing a room full of strangers, connect with as many people as possible before you speak. Interview members of the group as you prepare your remarks, and arrive early to chat with attendees as they enter the room. If you are speaking at a conference, mingle with people in the day or two before you speak. Then you will be able to make eye contact with people you know, mention audience members by name and integrate their anecdotes into your remarks.
- Move around. If the room setup permits, walk around during your presentation, spending a few moments in every section. Walk as you make a transition, and then stop to deliver your point.
- Take a break. Ease some of the pressure on yourself and make the presentation more interesting for the audience by not speaking the entire time. Plan an exercise the audience can complete in small groups, share the stage with another presenter or show a video clip to illustrate one of your points.
Don’t allow your enthusiasm for a subject to undermine your authority when you speak about it. You will be more persuasive when you avoid these faults:
- Speaking too fast. Listeners don’t trust people who talk exceptionally fast. Speak at a moderate pace to hold your listeners’ attention.
- Being too animated. Hand gestures and inflection are important to convey your enthusiasm. However, if you look like you are trying too hard to make an impression, that will distract from your message.
- Not taking a break. It’s easy to become caught up in offering an explanation and forget to stop for air. People are more receptive to speakers who pause naturally for breath and approach their presentations as conversations.
— Adapted from “Pause & Pitch: The Surprising Keys to Persuasive Speaking,” Rebecca Mazin, http://www.allbusiness.com.
Great speakers prepare not only their message, but also their delivery. Include elements in your presentations that keep your audience engaged and alert. Plan practices like these:
- Alternate your style. With your voice you can vary the tone, pitch, volume and pace. Choose changes that fit with your message. Tip: Lead the audience to hang on your every word by saying your key point in a soft voice. Then repeat it in a normal tone.
- Move around. If the setup permits, leave the stage and walk among the audience members. That makes it easier to interact with them.
- Involve the audience. Plan small-group exercises, ask questions, take polls and invite listeners to role-play something you have just discussed.
- Share the stage. Invite someone else to present with you. Interact as you speak, rather than just dividing the time and topics.
- Build in flexibility. Structure your presentation so you can speed through or avoid one section and delve deeper into another, depending on the feedback you observe from the audience.
- Choose visually interesting graphics. Display slides that excite and are memorable.
- Use props. Give the audience something to look at other than you.
- Schedule breaks. If you will be speaking for more than an hour, announce at the beginning when you will take a short break. Give attendees enough time to walk around, drink some water and chat.
- Show off your hidden talent. In all but the most serious speeches, you can probably find a way to work in talents such as juggling or playing the violin. One British speaker promised his American audience that he would teach them how to brew a proper cup of tea, something he said Americans were woefully inadequate at doing. As he wrapped up his session on health care, the audience reminded him to fulfill that promise.
- From the editors