Not that long ago I had the privilege of attending an exclusive conference where many senior C-level executives were presenting. There was one executive I was eager to hear speak. I was very excited…until…to say that she “bombed” on that stage would be putting it mildly.
After the presentations were over, I sat in the back of the conference room, fumbling through my things as the audience exited. I was stalling because I wanted to hear what she would say to her staff as they huddled in a corner and debriefed. I was enormously disappointed again. Among the list of reasons for failure were: the room was too big, the acoustics were wrong, the presentation didn’t load properly (somewhat valid), and the audience was just the wrong group of people. I wanted to stand up and say, “It’s not the audience. It’s you.” But, I thought better of it.
Having spent some time on stage in my life, I can say with a fairly decent level of confidence, that it’s never the “audience” it’s always the “performer.” Every. Single. Time. The audience is there to be informed, entertained, enlightened. They’re never there to be bored, distracted and irritated.
Below are four tips, I’ve learned throughout the years.
You’re talking. You’re credible. If you’ve been given a speaking slot, you don’t have to spend a lot of time explaining to the audience why they should believe or listen to you. Don’t go through your resume. People read your bio before they sat in the room. You’ve got the spotlight and no one is going to think you don’t deserve it, unless you start giving them reasons to think so. If you must, just give a simple one sentence statement and move on to the content.
What’s the gift to the audience? I’ve seen too many presentations, where half way through, I forgot why I was listening. Before you start your conversation with the audience (and it is a conversation, not a soliloquy), ask yourself what’s the gift you’re giving them? What is it they’re going to learn from you, that they never knew before? What’s that ONE thing you want them to remember? What’s essentially your gift to the audience? If you approach it from the perspective that you’re giving someone something, it opens up this idea that you have something of value. Find that one gem, and give it away.
Tell a story. It makes you human. There are so many articles and books written about the power of story and how it binds us together as human beings. Start your presentation with a relevant and inspiring story. But, be cautious of the stories you share as I heard one executive once share a story about how difficult it was to maintain two homes overseas, only to have someone turn to me and say, “I’m just trying to make my mortgage payment.” Be mindful, but a wonderful story can humanize you, make you relatable, and even memorable to your audience.
What are you wearing? As Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players” so, what are you wearing? Think of your costume up on that stage. Is it worthy of your content and position? Does it fit properly? I’d love to jump on the bandwagon and say that it doesn’t matter what you look like and “be your authentic self” but honestly, leave the sweatpants and the flip flops for the weekends, and show up appropriately. And, please make sure someone has a look at you before you walk on the stage, i.e. make sure your skirt isn’t crooked, you’re zipped up, your tie isn’t askew, etc. When you’re staring at someone on stage you notice the details.
I appreciate how unbelievably daunting it is to be on stage and stare at an audience —especially a quiet one. But, give your presentation with all the love you can possibly muster for your audience, and they’ll respond. Because it’s not them, it’s always you.