Commanding platform presence

November 1, 2000
Jeff Magee
Pharmaceutical Representative

Presenting the right message to your audience.

From my days in broadcast news radio to the decade I have spent in public speaking and management training, I have repeatedly been asked for ground rules to improve presentation skills.

Here are some commandments that others have shared with me and some that I have learned the hard way.

Commandment one: An employment agency conducted a study a few years back and found that when a person enters a room, others immediately start to judge him or her before the speech has even begun. In the first seven seconds, there are three things that an audience registers about a speaker: shoes, waist and face. The next time you prepare for a presentation, ask yourself what your body is saying before your mouth opens. Remember, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Commandment two: Your mouth matters. The audience hangs on your first words, so avoid sounding boring or canned. Rehearse your opening statement to the point that it knocks the audience out of their chairs. Forgo standard opening lines, pleasantries and introductions until after your opening hook.

Commandment three: The adult learning model teaches that, to increase your presentation's impact, you should follow three rules. First, tell the audience what you will talk about. Second, present to the audience what you said you would tell them. And third, conclude your presentation with a "here's what I told you…" statement. Studies also show that a presentation is enhanced when it is interactive every seven to ten minutes.

Commandment four: The Wharton School of Business found that adults remember more when presentations require individuals to write and then do something with the data, as opposed to merely hearing the information. This can increase retention by more than 50%. Also, retention is enhanced when information is presented, then followed up by illustrations or finalized with a story using the information. The brain anchors itself better to stories and visuals than just data.

Commandment five: To increase impact, always design your presentation to include both visual and auditory information to make it highly kinesthetic.

Commandment six: Grab attention using the 3/3/30 rule. Advertisers design ad campaigns around this rule, which states that a recipient of information (especially visuals) will mentally spend about three seconds to identify what something is. If that can be achieved, the person will spend an additional three seconds to decide whether the message looks clear enough to consider it further. If this second test is passed, the recipient will invest roughly 30 seconds processing the information for buy-in, rejection or further consideration.

Commandment seven: Dale Carnegie made a rule of it: Always use the other person's name in conversation and presentation. One's name is the sweetest sound in any vocabulary, so use it asa magnet.

Commandment eight: Work the room. Don't hide at the front of the room. Move around the tables or rows or wherever the audience is. The more you engage the audience, the more it pulls them into your presentation.

Commandment nine: Don't get trapped in "the presenter's box," the space you occupy when standing or sitting as a presenter.

Commandment ten: Anticipate that what can go wrong will go wrong. This is especially true when working with electronics in your presentation (such as overhead projectors, computer systems, slides, microphones and flip charts). Always test every piece of equipment before your audience arrives, no matter what your on-site technical experts tell you. For example, if someone tells you the projector has a backup bulb, activate it and ensure that it actually illuminates.

Commandment eleven: Focus, focus, focus. When conducting a study of their professional membership in meetings, the American Banker's Association determined that the professional adult mind can remain focused on one subject for about 45 minutes. After that, the mind starts to wander, daydream or just lose interest. If your presentation is on a single subject and requires more than 45 minutes of presentation time, make sure you schedule breaks, one-on-one activities or interactions and adjustments. Also, plan a major change in focus every 45 minutes to keep everyone mentally and physically alert.

Commandment twelve: How about that, size does matter. For increased impact with every audience member, even those who cherish the back row, test your visuals (such as overheads, wall hangings and computer-generated imagery) from the back of the room to determine whether you can see them clearly. If not, make the adjustment before an audience member makes an issue of it.

Commandment thirteen: Manage where the eyes and attention of your participants go. Studies indicate that, when talking, you cannot draw the attention of the person whose focus is fixated on visuals. For this reason, if you don't want people looking at handouts or workbooks, then don't hand them out until you have made your point and are ready to stop talking.

Commandment fourteen: Visualize the room you are presenting in as if it were broken down into four quadrants from where you are positioned. The upper left and upper right quadrants will be the furthest section of people from you, and the lower left and lower right quadrants will be the sections of people closest to you. Make a conscious effort to meet some people from each of these quadrants before the program begins. This pre-meeting will make you feel more comfortable with the room overall and allow you to continuously make eye contact with four different areas of the room. Everyone between you and the person in the quadrant you are looking at will assume you are looking at them.

Commandment fifteen: Time your presentation. If possible, have someone give you time cues from the front row or back of the room so you know when to get ready for breaks, when to start closing down or when to stop. If this is not possible, always take your watch off and set it where your notes are so you can covertly keep track of time. Going past your allotted time window is a sure way to be tuned out by the majority of audience members. Always read the audience for clues on when to increase your energy, when to slow down, when to take breaks and when to start closing down. That way, you can be sure you will be invited back. PR