You often hear someone say after a conference, “Wow, the speaker really took command of the room.” If you ask him what he means by “take command,” he might have trouble explaining the concept. That’s because it’s not easy to describe the subtle techniques that great speakers use to command the audience’s attention during their presentation.
From the Moment You Enter
One technique to use to become a great speaker is to plan your entrance. You immediately begin to establish your authority by striding in with a sense of purpose, your head held high while making eye contact with the first people you see.
How you walk on the stage and how you sit or stand all send out subtle cues that you’re important and worth listening to.
When it’s your turn to speak, take a moment to look around the audience. Don’t be afraid of silence, no matter how uncomfortable that may feel. Make an effort to hold yourself back until the audience quiets down. If you start speaking right away, half of what you say will be lost.
The audience needs time to get comfortable with you. They’re unconsciously asking themselves, “Does she appeal to me? Does she look like an expert with the necessary gravitas?”As we discussed in an earlier post, your appearance adds to your executive presence. You need to stay true to your style and not try to be someone else.
Not too long ago, we coached a senior woman executive at a global industrial company for her presentation to the Board. She was a no-frills kind of person, but the president urged her to dress up and said, “You need to wear some jewelry and makeup.”
But that wasn’t who she is. She is a brilliant businesswoman and doctor with a no frills style that works for her. I told her, “You’re not going to feel authentic if you wear heavy jewelry and a lot of makeup.” We enlisted the help of a personal shopper to upgrade her image with a new dress and matching jacket and shoes. She had her hair colored and styled and wore just a touch of makeup.
She doesn’t wear dresses very often, preferring pants suits, so she wore the dress a few times before the day of her presentation to get comfortable with her new look. But her appearance was totally in keeping with her own image of herself.
Get the Attention Back on You
There are usually many speakers at a conference and there may have been presenters on stage before you. It’s important that you stand out from everyone else. Be gracious and acknowledge the other speakers before you dive into your presentation.
Say something like, “Before I begin, I’d like to acknowledge the previous speakers and set a context for my talk. Keeping in mind what they said, I plan to approach the topic from a different perspective.” Take the theme of the conference and make it your own.
If you’re speaking in a hotel ballroom or convention hall, you’ve got to be prepared for distractions. If you see some members of the audience typing on their smart phones or reading their iPads, don’t focus on them but rather connect with the people who are listening. Always focus on the people who are paying attention.
You can also be distracted by technical glitches. The PowerPoint projector blows a fuse or a band starts playing loud music in the next meeting room.
Stop and wait for the conference leader to rectify the situation before you start again. Sure, a few people in the audience may leave, but don’t let that throw you. Just keep going again when everything is back up and running. Always stay in command.
Of course, the distraction may be out of anyone’s control. Sometimes you’ll hear the screeching of a garbage truck making a pickup or a worker starts drilling in the street.
If that happens, ask for the audience’s indulgence until the noise stops. Remember, that these distractions are annoying to the audience, too. The audience is actually on your side – they’ll feel badly for you. So reassure them you’re OK. Use a little humor to break the tension.
“Well, if they were going to start drilling the least they could do was give us ear plugs! Let’s see if it stops soon, and then I can resume my talk.” Or, use the opportunity to take a coffee break.
Of course, some people may never come back. But that’s not something you can control. Take command of the things you can control and learn to carry on even when something goes wrong.
You will gain the respect of the audience, which, after all, was your goal in the first place.
- 10 of the Best Business Presentation Apps for Your Smartphone (smallbiztrends.com)
- Presenting? Make sure you have these backup plans (ragan.com)
- Your Presentation is About More than Just the Words You Use – Presenting Yourself and more . . .Presenting Yourself and more . . . (presenting-yourself.com)
- Turning Passive Audiences into Brand Evangelists (spinsucks.com)