How to make sure people listen to you when you give a presentation.

sleeping audienecesIt’s a common fear. Not that we have to stand up in front of a group of people and articulate a viewpoint per se but that no one will listen to us.

Imagine the scene: You are there at the front of the room. You’ve spent days if not weeks preparing for your presentation. You slides are immaculate and trice tested. You are wearing your best bib and tucker.  You look out at the room and realise with sinking heart, that no one is listening!

For lots of people this is a key dread, a real fear that gets in the way of them presenting in the first place. And it has something to do with being embarrassed for sure.  But even more I think it has a lot to do with the fact that when people don’t listen to us, we don’t feel valued. And for most of us, at work at any rate, it is important to do work of value and be valued for it.  So when we present our business, our idea, our recommendation or report on work we have done and no one listens, then it taps into a deep seated fear that what we are doing is of no value and we are not valued for it.

Of course – how do we know that people aren’t listening? If you are able to look out to your audience and see what is going on there some tell tale signs are people not looking at you: people checking their phones and watches, people talking to their neighbour and …dare I say it? – people with their eyes closed.  All pretty big signals wouldn’t you think?  Except just remember that if they are not looking at you , perhaps they are looking at the slides or processing the information a different way, if they are checking their phones are they taking notes or tweeting ( this happens more times than you would think!) and if they have their eyes closed maybe they are blocking out distractions.  Ok, you are saying, Catherine, stop pretending and putting a gloss on it…and yes, sometimes people are simply not listening no matter how much spin you put on it. But sometimes we interpret signs inaccurately and negatively and this affects the state in which we present.  So do double check. All these things have happened to me and the audience were listening…( I went and checked with them)

It is much more of a positive experience though if we have people giving very obvious and open signs of paying attention isn’t it? No guesswork involved there.  So here are some tips to help keep people listening:

1. Craft your message and shape your content so that people have to listen because it has been tailored just for them. This is about what they need to hear, not what you want to tell them.  There is a subtle and powerful difference. If what you say is relevant and beneficial for them to listen , they will listen.

2. Work on your delivery: if you want your audience to be lively, interested, attentive and focused, then you must be all these things on steroids! Be lively yourself ( think breathing, energy, movement and facial expressions), be interested ( ask questions, give your audience eye contact, pause) be attentive ( look out, ‘listen’ for audience responses and mood and adjust your session) and focussed (be fully in the moment, right there in the audience and part of the experience rather than hidden behind a script or lectern)

3. Engage your audience rather than deliver or download information to them.  Relate what you have to say to their experiences, ask lots of questions, draw pictures that are meaningful to them and demand their attention. After all this has been crafted just for them.

4. If you use slides then make sure they are there to enhance the listening experience not replace it. That way the listeners will check the slide out, and then turn back to you for interpretation and explanation and application.

I guess it starts of with ourselves doesn’t it ? Knowing we have something of value to say in the first place. Learning the skills and techniques that enable us to deliver it in a way that is of value to the listener. Practicing so that we can guarantee that value each and every time.

What are your thoughts on this one…



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