Frequent PublicSpeakingsSkills.com readers know that the only way to assure your presentation audience will stay with you every step of the way is to maintain proper eye contact throughout your presentation. Proper eye contact involves delivering your presentation as a series of one-on-one conversations with each member of the audience, and holding eye-contact with members through to the end of a thought or complete sentence. Most presenters hold eye contact with any one person no more than one second – to effectively bond with your audience, you need to pump that up to a range more like three to eight.
The image to keep in mind here is that you are never delivering to a group of individuals, but rather to individuals in a group. (When people ask me what’s the largest number of people I’ve ever spoken to, I always answer, “one”. )
When delivering a PowerPoint presentation, maintaining proper eye contact becomes difficult if your slides are structured like most we see in the corporate world today – with way more information than the audience can digest before the speaker feels compels to start speaking. In order to maintain constant eye contact with members of the audience, you must restrict the volume of information that you toss up on the screen at any one time. Otherwise, you will do what most presenters do, which is to spend much of the presentation looking at the screen. In fact, you must restrict each new parcel of information to that which can be absorbed by both you and the audience in just a few seconds – ten at the very most.
That will set you up to then smoothly and coherently transfer the information from the screen to the audience. We call the procedure for doing this “Absorb, Align, and Address. ”
When new information appears on the screen, all eyes will follow it, and at this point it is OK, and desirable, for you, too, to look to the screen. By doing so, you “give permission” to the audience to get prepared for what’s coming next. That’s all the screen info should include, too: just enough information to set the stage for what you are going to discuss. At this point, because you are not looking at any individual in the group, you must be silent.
Rule Number 9: If your eyes aren’t locked, your jaw must be.
When you have absorbed the data bite, you can now think for a moment on how to phrase what you want to say to start off. This would not include expounding on the point, but merely filling out the talking points to make a grammatically correct statement.
Once you and your audience have had the opportunity to take in this info, you then need to turn your attention away from the screen, and lock eyes (align) with a member of the audience. This is the most difficult part, physically, to perform, as the natural tendency is to begin speaking as soon as you have formulated your statement.
Locked on, you finally can address your selected member of the audience with your version of the talking point.
Understand that if what you’re addressing is a bullet point, this address should not be the actual words. You may always say more than the line on the screen, but never, never any less. Keep in mind that the group will read everything that’s on the screen, so if you put words up there but don’t speak to them, you are actually insulting your audience: These words aren’t important enough for me to bother with but I wanted to take up your brain’s time and effort just the same.
How many times has this happened to you: You go to a presentation and see slide after slide with all kinds of footnotes and small type, or graphs with legends and data to which the presenter never refers? You’re looking at all the elements on the slide trying to figure out which stuff is most important, and then the presenter never even mentions half the stuff you’ve read. How does that make you feel? For most people, the first slide that contains more information than the presenter chooses not to discuss is the point at which they check out, deciding to figure it all out later from the handout, which, of course, they trash at the first can they see outside the presentation room.
Once learned, the Absorb, Align and Address system is a beautiful thing to behold. Slides designed with this system never suffer from TMI, and thus never have too much for the presenter to deal with. Presenter confidence is high, and the audience feels this big time. The audience is forced to turn their attention to you, because there’s not enough information to allow them to jump to their own conclusions. By the same token, you are now able to direct all of your speaking to the audience and not the screen.
But here’s the really fun part: When you follow this simple plan for both design and delivery, almost anyone can look and sound like an expert on their subject, regardless of how much prep time they’ve put into rehearsing the presentation! We prove this in our corporate training classes by having participants deliver other participant’s presentations that we have edited and revised to comply with the “rules” (next chapter). Preferably, off course, you would have a good background in the subject matter, so that you can deliver the “meat on the bones” part effectively. But if you know to what the talking points refer, and you also know that no more material than you can deliver in just a few seconds will appear, you can actually give a presentation for the very first time and sound like you know what you’re talking about!
J. Douglas Jefferys brings twenty-five years of corporate training experience to his role as a principal of PublicSpeakingSkills.com [http://www.publicspeakingskills.com ]. His firm changes presenters lives forever with their unique apporach to training presentation design and delivery skills. Discover how to design and deliver presentations that audiences actually listen to by visiting their website now.