I had a young friend recently ask me for advice on a critical sales presentation he was getting ready to make. He had prepared a good graphical presentation on the computer, but was still a little squeamish about speaking in front of a group of people. Knowing I had been through this many times in my career, he asked for some advice. My first question to him was, "How well do you know your subject?"
He assured me he was supremely confident in his subject area, that he could answer any and all questions pertaining to it. I then replied that he had nothing to worry about as it is all about confidence. Quite often you hear people admonished to think of their audience without any clothes on. This is done to exert the speaker's confidence and superiority over them. It's not really necessary to think of your audience naked, unless they are all highly attractive people in which condition you will likely be distracted (as opposed to authoritative).
I advised my young friend, to remain confident and stay in control of the presentation. If you know the subject matter better than anyone else, as they should, go into the presentation with a little swagger, look people square in the eye, and almost dare them to ask you a question. A little intimidation can go a long way in demonstrating your confidence. More importantly though, I encourage speakers to interact with their audience. A pointed index finger can engage participation better than just asking, "Are there any questions?"
I frequently use the index finger not only to ask questions, particularly to those people who are half-awake, but to ask them, "Isn't that right?" If there is disagreement, I want to get it out in the open and not let it simmer until later. More importantly, I am trying to get the audience on my side. Jokes and humor are useful for breaking the ice, but I want to recruit support for my argument, and this is primarily done by actively interacting with the audience. The index finger can be very powerful in this regard.
When I get nothing but blank stares after asking a question, I say something like this, "Look it is really quite simple, this means 'Yes' (shake head up-and-down), this means 'No' (shake head left-to-right), and this means 'I haven't got a clue what you are talking about' (shake head diagonally)."
This is a good for breaking the ice and a clever way of warning the audience they will be asked to actively participate in the presentation (and they shouldn't be caught napping).
I also advise speakers to dress for success. A good set of clothes not only is a sign of respect for the audience, it is an expression of your confidence and authority. The speaker should either dress better than his audience, or at least equal to them, but never worse.
I followed up with my young friend afterwards to see how his presentation had gone. He was pleased to inform me that all went well, that he had actively engaged the audience and got them on his side. In fact, he was quite pleased with his performance as well as his boss who was impressed by his swagger. More importantly, they got the sale.
This is why I am a big believer in encouraging more speech classes in school, starting in the elementary grades. Such training overcomes the intimidation of the audience and actually turns the tables. Giving an effective speech is much more than just the spoken word, or a slick graphical presentation, it is also the histrionics of delivering a speech. Just remember, your index finger is more powerful than a lot of people think. It means you are in charge.
Keep the Faith!
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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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