Study and Familiarize Yourself with the Stage Area
Take time before the presentation to study the presentation area. Is it on a stage? Is there an ability to walk into the audience to engage the audience more personally? Walking into the audience can be scary, but it’s effective! The most engaging and memorable presentations I have attended included the presenter coming into the audience and making more personal contact with me. I did not feel like one in a crowd, but an individual who was important to the presenter. The more the presenter moves, makes eye contact with and moves into the audience, the more the audience members feel invested in your presentation, and it will be more memorable to them, also. The trick is to balance the audience with the individual. Do not focus only on particular individuals in spite of others, focus on individuals to bring the best out of the audience.
Always Face the Audience
Last night we went to see a Mohiniyattam performance. Mohiniyattam is one of the traditional dances of Kerala. Whenever, the dancer had to step backwards on the stage for her dance or leave the stage at the end of the performance, she did not turn around and simply walk off the stage, she walked backward in a choreographed way, always facing the audience. Though some may argue that a dancer is a performance artist, so it makes more sense to do this than a public speaker, I would disagree. Anyone who presents in front of an audience must hold the attention of the audience, and when our back faces someone who we are talking with or presenting to, we lose their attention. This is true in one on one discussion as well as in presentations in front of audiences.
Take care that while moving into the audience, and from one side of the stage to the other, it’s critically important NEVER to turn your back to the audience (unless it’s for dramatic purposes and rehearsed ahead of time). When the presenter’s back turns, the eye contact gets disconnected, and no one really likes to look at someone’s back, even for a fraction of a second. All good actors on television or stage will advise this. Find creative ways to always face the audience. Though it will feel uncomfortable for you as the presenter to do this, the audience will not lose a connection with you, which will result in better outcomes to your presentation.
Avoid Using Lecterns
One of the best public speakers I have seen delivered his speech in Malayalam. This was a memorable event for me, because it taught me that beyond the language, there was so much more to an audience member to be engaged in the presentation. Interestingly, before this Kerala native took the stage, he was particular in:
- removing the lectern (podium) from the presentation area
- not delivering the presentation from the stage, but the floor where the audience was sitting
- arranging the audience in a circular format so that he would be delivering his message while standing in the middle of the audience
Do keep these tips in mind while preparing yourself to present in front of an audience. Yes, the first time any of these tips are practiced, it will be scary. But, the outcomes will reap many rewards. If time and resources permit, choreograph and practice your presentation ahead of time.
Jennifer Kumar is a corporate trainer and coach based in Kochi, India helping IT professionals communicate in English with more confidence to groups and individuals. Contact her for more information.
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