Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to lead training workshops at many of the top tech firms, and one thing I always tell my groups is that speaking about something technical need not be boring.
No matter how technical your topic, it’s up to you to find a way to keep your audience interested in what you have to say. Here are 10 ways to assure you’ll keep your audience with you.
Think about why you are speaking. As the subject matter expert, you have a gift to give your audience that will help them out. Think about an action that they will take as a result of your presentation. Saying you’re speaking to them to “impart information” is a cop-out. Get more active and think about what they’ll DO with your words of wisdom.
Give your unique perspective and tell personal stories that relate to your material. It is up to you to find stories that connect you to your material. Your audience will remember a good story, especially one about something really stupid you did (and learned from). Bonus points: this will also get them on your side.
Define who your audience will be. What is their background? What are they interested in? How familiar will they be with your topic? This is one of the most important things that people tend to overlook — but finding out what your audience really cares about will help you tailor your presentation to their needs and interest.
Do you care about your topic? If you don’t care and can’t show passion for your subject, you certainly can’t expect your audience to. You’ll be radiating your boredom, and your audience will follow suit.
Keep it Conversational. Sure, you’re the subject matter expert, but that doesn’t mean you have to speak like a robot. Record yourself and listen and/or watch. Does it sound like you’re speaking at gunpoint, or like you’re actually talking to someone? Practice with a friend running through the presentation talking to them as you would about anything. Speaking like a real person having a real conversation makes a huge difference to your audience.
Make Eye Contact. Keeping your face buried in your notes, or staring at the screen behind you disconnects you from your audience. After you make a point at the end of a phrase or sentence, check to see if the audience got what you said. Avoid scanning the audience, choose one person at a time to speak to, and the entire audience will feel as if you’re talking to them.
Breathe and Slow Down. Having lots of pairs of eyes on you is freaky and stressful, and you’ll probably start to breathe in a very shallow way, and speak as fast as you can so you can get this over with. This is a normal reaction, so don’t beat yourself up. Breathing more deeply will send needed oxygen to your brain and nervous system telling them to calm down. Pauses and breaks are great ways to give your audience time to process what you’ve said.
Be Prepared, not perfect. Perfection doesn’t exist, and straining to be perfect will squeeze the life out of your presentation and squelch your natural ability to carry on a conversation with your audience.
Choose your visual images carefully. Less equals more. Go easy on the bullet points, and please don’t just read exactly what’s on your screen without elaborating. If you have to use bulleted lists — at least reveal them as you speak about them, otherwise everyone will stop listening to you while they are reading what’s on your screen. Use real world examples and talk about real situations.
Practice. A lot. Period. I’ve come across a lot of people who feel that if they practice too much, their presentation will come off as “too rehearsed.” The most calm, relaxed, conversational presenters you’ll see have rehearsed A LOT to look that effortless.
It’s hard work, and takes time, but as long as you rehearse, connect to your words, have passion for your subject, and carry on a conversation with your audience, you’ll come across as genuine and knock it out of the park.