On Wednesday, I posted a mini-review of Alan Carroll’s book The Broadband Connection, which aims to help IT professionals prepare, deliver, and manage more effective and compelling presentations to audiences of all kinds. In some back-and-forth about that review with the publisher’s rep, I got to thinking about my own experience in presenting to audiences of various types and sizes, and how I myself came around to developing a set of creditable presentation skills.
For many newbie presenters, their focus is entirely on the material. Do they know their stuff? Are they familiar enough with what’s on the slides that they can talk about them fluidly and accurately? Have they prepared for questions? Practiced their delivery? and so forth…
What’s missing from this focus, and what Carroll spends much of the coverage in his book on adding to the picture, is the audience to whom the presentation is to be delivered. Although he wraps up his advice and behavior coaching in transpersonal psychology language, his most important points can be summarized as follows:
- Make eye contact with the audience. People need to feel like you’re interested in and talking to them, not to an empty room.
- Don’t talk all the time, with no breaks. People need time to digest what you’re telling them, and to think about what you’re trying to convey.
- Check the audience members’ facial expressions and body language to see how you’re doing: are they bored? confused? Do they “get” what you’re talking about? Do you see signs of interest?
- Interact with the audience: Get to know peoples’ names, then use them. Ask questions. Solicit input. Provoke opinions and information sharing from the audience, particularly if they’ve either failed or succeeded in trying to address issues, develop solutions, or implement systems that you are trying to explore and explain.
I could go on and on, and if you find this stuff interesting, you should definitely check out this book, too. But the key is to understand ultimately that it’s not what you know, or how much ground you can cover, that really counts when you give a technical (or other) presentation. What really counts is what you can give to your attendees, and what they can take away with them when the presentation is over. If you remember that basic principle, and increase your efforts to get your messages across, you will improve your presentation skills immediately.