A Simple Mindset Shift To Be More Present With An Audience
I want you to imagine for a moment that you’ve got a knowledge gap in a certain area. It’s something that’s affecting your work, so you’re interested to find out what you can. You remember that a colleague is an expert in this area. So you ask them if they can meet you for a coffee, so you can walk away with a better understanding. They accept, so you’re looking forward to the chat. Note: This is obviously for a post COVID-19 era!
You meet them at the ground floor lobby of your work and walk to the small coffee shop across the road. You both sit down and order your coffees. You’re about to re-iterate what it is you’re wanting to find out and exactly what you’re after, but before you can, they start talking. They introduce themselves, run over a brief summary of their recent career history and an agenda of what they’re going to talk about. You find this quite strange, as you already know them and what you’re sitting down to chat about.
After their brief introduction, without giving you a chance to jump in, they delve right into the detail of the topic. They go deep and are talking quite fast, rattling off new concepts that you’re not familiar with. They’re covering so many different bits of information, that you’re struggling to follow them. Then you miss a few aspects because they’re getting glossed over so quickly that you start to listen, but not really understand. You start to tune out, however you don’t want them to realise, so you sit there politely, nod your head and let them continue.
It goes on like this for a bit longer. Also, to make matters worse, throughout the whole catchup, they keep flipping through a notepad they have brought with them. The notepad is filled with bullet points (I’m talking an actual paper notepad here, not the electronic kind) and there are about 30 pages they flip through. As a result, they read directly off the notepad and spend a lot of time looking down and not giving you any eye contact. You find this really distracting. Not to mention bizarre because you thought you knew their stuff, so you’re not sure why they’re not just explaining what they know to you.
After about 30 minutes of this, they appear to be wrapping up. You wait politely until they’ve finished and then just as you’re about to launch into your set of questions they say “oh sorry I have another coffee catchup now, I have to run, but if you have any questions just let me know and I can answer them later”. Argh…! You didn’t get what you wanted out of the conversation at all.
Now, this seems like a totally unrealistic situation, right? Yet this is what happens when people present all the time. Now I know that a coffee catchup is not the same as a presentation. However, just because you’re speaking to more people when you present, doesn’t mean they don’t still have the same expectations about how you’re going to talk to them. They still want to feel like you’re talking to them specifically. They still want to feel like you understand their needs and wants. They still have that innate sense of curiosity and desire to be able to connect the dots on things. They still want eye contact. Also, they still need you to be cognisant, that for a lot of them, this is new information. As such, it’s hard to follow if you keep talking at them, without pauses, without summaries and without any interaction.
So, next time you’re going to present, don’t get so hung up on your slides and notes, that you forget to connect with the people you’re presenting to. Think about what your audience wants before you get up to speak. Provide sufficient context. Summarise information so they can follow what you’re saying. Maintain eye contact with them. Connect the dots for them. Have a conversation with them. But most of all, be as present with them as you would if you were having a coffee with them. It will be much more engaging. Because, you have to remember, they are all giving you their undivided attention.
Emily Edgeley is a Public Speaking Coach for the Technology Industry www.emilyedgeley.com
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