Face the Facts, and Face your Audience


The Bayon, Angkor Thom (6754760825).jpg – Wikimedia

Amazing isn’t it, the way your body faces the audience when you start a speech, but your head and neck are stretched towards the screen as a compromise between facing the facts and facing the audience. The audience is less confused. It always faces the screen because the chairs do. The audience is all eyes, even though it should be all ears, since it is after all… the audience. In some ways, presenters are auditioning for a place in the audience’s mind as soon as they speak. Yet many fail the audition, for many reasons.

The first reason is purely auditive. Every time you turn your head away from the mike, be it a podium mike or a clip-on mike, to face the screen, the distance required for your words to reach the mike is increased by a few meters: the forward journey of the sound wave from your mouth to the screen plus the return trip from the screen to the mike. The volume is now the same as if you were standing that far away from the mike, and the led bar on the audio mixer backstage testifies to the fact by losing a few green notches. If the sound engineer monitoring the audio were to compensate the loss by manually raising the volume level, the led bar would jump into the blasting reds as soon as you returned to the mike – so the engineer regularly foregoes any correction to spare the audience from an audio roller-coaster.

The second reason is purely relational. The way to relate to an audience is through your smile and eyes. Drop the anchor of your eyes onto the screen and there too will your audience moor its attention. It will understand that facing the facts is more important than facing people, the message more important than the messenger, the hot pizza slices more important than the pizza delivery guy. Strangely, you are present, and yet absent, a foreground the background swallowed, existing only as a voice-over for a set of slides.

The third reason is purely psychotic. Fear has conquered you. Fear is not your enemy, it is your judge. Your anxiety is the sum of all your fears and your fears are legion. They garrote your throat, attack your nerves, desiccate your mouth, liquefy your bowels, and send tremors throughout your limbs. You are not a host, you are the ghost of a host. Your guests sense your discomfort and discount you. You failed the audition.

Therefore, face the facts: face your audience. The screen is your co-host, part of the supporting cast. You are the main actor. Do not let your slides take over. And involve your audience from the word Go. Now, on your starting blocks!

008 Presenter Mistakes

Dr Sinclair and Dr Curry share their favourite presenter “crimes” against the audience, and in the process, article one and article two of the universal rights of scientific audiences are drafted.

Presentation traps 5 – the title trap

Image source: Flickr, Author: Docman

Time after time, presenters repeat the same mistake: the title slide is on the screen behind them, they turn towards the screen, read the title, and possibly also read their name (why stop now), then immediately move on to the next slide.

Dear presenter (you don’t mind if I call you dear, do you, for I really care for you), WHY DO YOU DO THAT?

The audience can read; the chairperson can read and has probably already read aloud your name and title anyway; and I have no doubt the audience already know you can read 🙂

The title is there, on the screen, simply because it is also on the conference program, and the participants eager to attend your talk want to make sure they are in the right room when they come in. The title is not meant to be read: it is meant to be explained, to be paraphrased, to be demystified. To prepare for that, simply picture yourself having to explain your title to someone who is not quite an expert. Listen to him or her ask: “So what does it mean?”. That is what you tell the audience while your title slide is displayed. There is no need to even look once at the screen. You want total eye contact with your audience during the whole time your title slide is on the screen.

No reader ever spends much time on the title page of a book, so why should the presenter spend more time on the title slide than it takes to read it? You do not need to spend more than 30 – 45 seconds on the slide, but you definitely cannot spend less than 5 seconds. People in the audience need to reset their attention on you and on your topic as they move from one presenter to another, and that takes time. They need time to look at you, absorb you, move from a neutral to a positive attitude and like you (don’t push it though, they don’t need to love you 🙂 ) and know a little more about your title than its dry condensed word-encoded meaning. Some, usually half of your audience, the non experts, need a little help from you to increase or validate their understanding of your title. They need time to see who else is working on your research or who else is sponsoring you to trust you as an authority on your topic.

In summary,

Your  Title Slide – don’t face it, don’t read it, and don’t rush it.

And you’ll be –          more affable, more audible, more credible, and more understandable.

By Jean-luc Lebrun