Nobody enjoys sitting through a dull and unproductive presentation or meeting, but many of us are guilty of repeatedly offering exactly that experience, writes Matt Abrahams for Stanford Business Journal.
The good news is that the mistakes we habitually make are fixable; we can all learn to be better at communicating if we look honestly at where we are going wrong and take steps to combat it.
Abrahams has five key tips to help you avoid common errors when you address a gathering and really want people to engage:
1) Start with a bang. It’s important to hook your audience right from the start, so an interesting opening is vital. Too many of us waste this golden opportunity with boring, cliched introductions – for example: “Hi. My name is… and I’m going to talk to you about…”
A much more effective approach is to steam straight in with something active and attention-grabbing. It could be a gripping story, a challenging question, a hands-up poll or something visual like a video clip.
2) Bridge your transitions. Keep the momentum going, otherwise people will drift towards their phones or a sneaky nap. Tricky moments are when you move from one section or point in a talk or presentation to another – for example, moving from a slide session into question time.
“You must spend time planning and practising robust transitions that go beyond ‘next’ and ‘so’,” says Abrahams. Lead one into another with a clear statement of progression, or ask a question.
3) Choose your words carefully. Hesitating or being vague are your worst enemies. Frequently using “kind of” or “sort of” dilutes your impact and casts doubt on the sincerity and strength of your message. Avoid this “hedging” language and look for alternatives. You could also try using specialist apps to get personalised feedback, on your wording and delivery.
4) Make it a snappy ending. Concluding well is as important as getting off to a cracking start. The last words people hear from you are often the most powerful. Saying, “I suppose we’d better pack up now as someone else has booked the room,” could negate all the good communication you’ve just achieved.
Thank people for their time and attention, then concisely stating the key points you want them to carry away.
5) Practise beforehand, but avoid trying to memorise. Freezing in front of an audience is a common fear, which is why it’s tempting to learn your script by heart. But this could make you even more likely to stall if you forget a line. It’s better to create a good outline that can act as a map for you and your audience to follow. Don’t worry about the wording being the same each time you deliver.
If you want to get you message across effectively, it’s important to make your presentations lively and appealing. Give appropriate thought and attention to both content and delivery by following Abrahams’s five valuable tips.