Habit 1: Keep your audience at the heart of every presentation.

Of the 12 habits that make up our framework for exceptional presenting, this is the most important. It is the first habit for a reason – get this one wrong and you will fail. Lodge Habit 1 at the heart of your presentation creation process and you’ll be well on your way to wowing your audience and becoming an exceptional presenter.

Audience-Centric Presentations

Have you ever read a communication from an organisation and felt that you have been part of a ‘box ticking’ exercise?

Local governments are particularly guilty of this.

A letter might arrive to update you on the new arrangements for recycling, or to inform you that your neighbour has decided to erect three, four-bed homes in their garden, and they need your feedback. As you read this missive you get the feeling that somewhere out in the ether a box has been ticked and that you were part of the process.

Apply this experience to presentations. Have you ever been in the audience when someone was presenting, and started to think like this? This presenter:

  • is not speaking my language. In fact it is all full of jargon I do not understand.
  • just does not get where I am coming from. This information does not apply to me.
  • does not understand how I am feeling or thinking.

Rather than seeing your talk as a chance to communicate the information that you want your audience to have – a presenter-centric approach –  focus on the audience members themselves. Who will be in the room?  What is their level of knowledge about the content? What is most important to them right now? What do they need to hear that could make a tangible difference to their personal or professional lives? Structure your content around this.

Build Empathy

Matching your content to their requirements will build connection and empathy, which is a cornerstone of effective influencing. One other way that you can build empathy with the audience is through pacing. Pacing is a simple and powerful technique to communicate to your audience that you understand something of their current reality – what they might be thinking and feeling about your chosen topic.

The principle to follow here is ‘pace, pace, lead’. Most people (and audiences) do not like being ‘sold to’. In fact they become defensive and resistant if they feel they are being lead too quickly. No wonder 84% of change initiatives fail in business! The way out of this is to pace – put yourself in the audience’s shoes. Ensure they know you get them, match their map of the world and then you get permission to lead.

Allowing your audience to understand that you are aware of their lived experience before you start to share your thoughts on the matter allows them to feel ‘heard’ and helps to bridge any gap between what you have to say and their understanding of the matter.

Take some time to consider their environment, challenges and concerns and build some statements into your content that acknowledge these possibilities. You will soon get the nods of recognition and feel that the audience is with you.

Don’t Try To Do Too Much

Being considerate of your audience means not trying to teach or communicate too much information in one presentation. It is something I see every day when I teach presenting – too much information packed into too small a time slot.

I’m sure that you have, on occasion, had the misfortune of being present during a talk where the presenter bit off more than he or she could chew while structuring the content. I was in Warsaw recently delivering a keynote and the guy after me had 114 slides to deliver in an hour. I am sure he thought he was adding real value. As I looked around the room after I completed my bit, I noticed very quickly that the audience had very different ideas!

Overloading your audience with information is a shortcut to boring the pants off them. Try to limit what you are communicating to a maximum of three big ideas. By all means fill in the details of each point that you want to discuss, and illustrate all three with anecdotes or statistics, but limit yourself to three broad brush strokes, if you want your audience to remember anything that you have said.

So – there we are – Habit 1: Keep your audience at the heart of every presentation. When your next presentation comes up, spend some time really thinking about this habit and let it guide you, as you structure your content.

If you’d like to find out about the other 11 Habits of Exceptional Speakers, why not get yourself a copy of my guide to this framework. This is the exact approach that I follow with my coaching clients. You’ll find it here.

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