Presentation preliminaries: 7 professional moves


Telephone Switchboard

Source: Telefonzentralen Fotoarchiv A1 Telekom Austria

The recommendation to “connect to your audience” evokes the image of the telephone operator of old, plugging a jack into a panel to connect a caller.  “To connect” to your audience implies that the default status at the start of a presentation is that of disconnection. You are not plugged into the energy source that is latent in the audience. So how easy is it to “connect”?

That depends on the audience, doesn’t it? Sometimes the audience waiting for the stage appearance of their favorite star is so “pumped up” with expectations that the artist gets an energizing  jolt when appearing in front of the audience – a jolt that would fry most of our brain circuits for us normal human beings unused to the stage. Sometimes the audience is arctic – they haven’t asked to come, or they don’t know you, or they don’t like you – and your stage appearance has the same effect as a cold draft. To connect with that audience, you need a thawing device. But the device is not universal, it has to be adapted to the root cause of the prevalent audience attitude towards you.

For an oral presentation at a scientific conference, the audience is usually idling in neutral. They came because the topic is mildly relevant, but their default expectations regarding you are not great based on the paucity of interesting presenters among scientists. The first slides usually confirms these expectations: text heavy slides have the freezing  effect of  liquid nitrogen and the 7 bullets loading each magazine of your Power-pointed gun freezes it just as effectively.

Your job is to CONNECT in order to draw energy from the audience, but no or little energy comes from their interest in you. Your atrociously difficult-to-pronounce last name does not help and neither does the atrociously complicated syntax of the jargon heavy title. Great! What is the next move? Actually, by that time, the next move comes too late, so let’s talk about  your first moves instead.

MOVE # 1.   Start with the title of your talk. When you craft the title of your talk, make sure 1) it is reader-friendly (avoid cascading modifiers); 2) it somehow conveys the significance of your work; and/or 3) it makes people salivate or raises intense curiosity.

MOVE # 2.  Start connecting with the audience prior to your talk. Greet them at the door if at all possible. Have a friendly chat with a few people in the audience prior to your talk (in the foyer, or inside the room). You will no longer be the anonymous stranger. A few members of the audience will now know you.

MOVE # 3.   Use your microwaving smile and your high energy laser eye contact to unfreeze the audience even before you say a single word. I do not recommend the 1 second thawing cycle; spend 4 seconds or more. Hurriedness does not convey confidence.

MOVE # 4.  Thank the chair personally while facing him or her, not the audience. Possibly thank your mother to bring a smile on a few faces, and a tear on your mother’s face. (CAUTION: Don’t try that if you are not humorous by nature). Then leverage off your small initial success to pump yourself up with an extra dose of confidence .

MOVE # 5.  Be professional in your first moves: a) while smiling, put on the microphone after you have turned it off to avoid unwelcome noise, then turn it back on and test it discreetly and do not cough or rake your throat from that moment on; b) do not spend your first moments with the audience hiding behind the lectern or fidgeting with the computer, engage the audience in full view, away from the computer if your wireless mike allows it.

MOVE # 6.   Relax. This blog and the scoop pages feature techniques to achieve that physically, but nothing relaxes more that knowing you are fully prepared and well rehearsed.

MOVE # 7.  Look good. Make an effort. But don’t dress like it is oscar night.

By Jean-luc lebrun