Engage your audience

Ten tips for changing the way you think about the start of any business presentation.

1. Don’t fool yourself!

Business people sometimes say – ‘I’m OK as long as I can get through the first three minutes’. I reply – ‘you’ve probably already lost the audience.’  Audience members judge you, asking themselves: are you confident? Do you understand us? Do you have both knowledge and gravitas? The start of any presentation determines to a large extent whether you’ll achieve your desired outcome: don’t just ‘get through it’, optimise those critical first three minutes!

2. Just be confident

Nervous people create nervous audiences. You must be self-confident. Here are three quick ways to ensure you’re in a resourceful state, whenever you present:

  • Breathe diaphragmatically – you’ll feel grounded and authentic.
  • Imagine a successful outcome. Elite athletes use visualisation as an intrinsic part of their preparation.
  • Think of a time when you were confident. Remember it as vividly as possible.  Chemicals fired by the brain when thinking of the past are the same as when experiencing it for real.

3. Prepare and present with the audience in mind

Every presentation should be audience not presenter-centric. Put yourself in the audience’s shoes  – what’s their current knowledge and motivation level?  What are their concerns and challenges around this topic?

4. Rehearse every presentation

If you don’t rehearse, your audience is seeing your first practice! Rehearsing makes you more confident, identifies development opportunities, and results in a smoother delivery.

5. Grab attention immediately – use a spike

A spike is a sentence or series of sentences that gets at the heart of your message. For example the MD of a Telecoms company seeking investment said: ‘50% of the world’s population have neither made nor received a phone call’. This compels the audience to pay attention right from the start!

6. Pace the audience before leading

Many presenters attempt to lead audiences too quickly to their key messages and wonder why they get push back. You may be passionate, they may not be. What you need to do is pace them; acknowledge their engagement level and understanding of the subject.  The audience is then much more likely to follow you and be convinced.

7. Articulate benefits to audience

Any audience needs to identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) to fully engage with your presentation.  People buy emotionally and then justify logically so you need to find ways to move them if you want them to take action.

Outline to the audience the benefits of listening to you – what will they improve, save, solve, increase, and reduce by listening to you?

8. Credentialise yourself

Keep it simple and concise.  Link your experience and expertise to the needs of the audience. Alternatively, start with a personal story that illustrates a key theme.

9. Speak in a credible voice pattern

In the first three minutes speak slowly, be fairly monotone, use pauses and ensure your inflection goes down at the end of the sentence. This will guarantee you have gravitas.

10. Utilise the power of your body language

55% of your impact on any audience happens unconsciously as a direct result of your body language. Stand tall on both feet, adopt a neutral resting position, resist the urge to slump or fiddle, use big gestures, smile and get eye contact with your audience immediately.

Article for Business Life (British Airways Magazine)