Are They Snoring In the Back Row
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Imagine that you have spent the better part of two weeks working on an
important speech you plan to give to your company. You think you have done
everything right. You have created a PowerPoint presentation with tons of
information and flash animation. You have created handouts of the slides for
your audience, so they can follow along. Although you haven’t had time to
rehearse the presentation you are not worried, because you have the entire
speech typed out. You plan to read it while you blow their socks off with the
dynamic PowerPoint slides. Everything should be perfect, right? WRONG!!!
If you were to look at your audience (which you cannot, because you are
reading your script) you would see them either riveted to the screen or to the
handout in front of them, but not at you. The audience members who are eye weary
from all the information you have packed into the slides are closing their eyes
just to rest them. What went wrong?
Experienced speakers know that to engage their audience, they must build
rapport. Reading from a script makes this difficult, if not impossible, because
connecting with an audience requires direct eye contact. No matter how well
written your speech, if you read your presentation to an audience, you will lose
Reading to your audience can also make you seem less authoritative. The
audience wonders, "If you know so much about the topic, why can't you just talk
about it? Why are you reading?"
Here are 5 tips for getting and keeping your audience’s attention:
Make Eye Contact Free yourself from the written page and demonstrate your
expertise by using one of these ideas:
If you want to memorize your speech, it is helpful to rehearse it out loud
just before you go to sleep and right when you get up.
If you use the outline method to create your script, you can simply go back
and clean it up and use that for the presentation. If you don’t have an outline
prepared you can create one using the major points of your presentation.
3. Key word method
This technique calls for you to select key words from your script that
represent a paragraph or two of information. These key words should jog your
memory so that you can speak extemporaneously. You can use a single page of key
words, or place them on 3x5 cards (always number the cards). If you are a
visually oriented person you can find an image that represents the key word and
create a pictogram.
Nothing helps you maintain good eye contact without memorization like the
When speaking to an audience, you want to make everyone in the audience feel
that the message is being directed to them personally. If you find that actually
looking into the eyes of your audience is difficult and distracting, look at the
tops of their heads which will create the illusion that you are speaking
directly to them.
In order to include the whole audience, use a “Z” pattern. Start by looking
at the front left section of the audience. After finishing your thought, turn
your gaze to the front right section. Again, finish your thought and direct your
gaze to the center section. Then look at the rear left section and after
completing your thought look to the rear right section.
Know your audience
The more you know about your audience’s wants, needs and level of
understanding, the better able you are to craft a speech they will feel
compelled to listen to. Too often speakers give the same presentation to
different groups. “Generic” speeches tend to lose most of the audience. A speech
needs to be relevant and specific.
You need to make sure that you are using words and ideas that are easily
grasped by your audience. This doesn’t mean you have to “dumb down” your speech,
but it does mean checking to make sure that you are not using jargon or acronyms
that are only known by a few.
Your audience is always thinking, “What’s in this for me?” Keep this question
in mind when you craft your speech.
Throw away your PowerPoint I think that there is no other element of a
presentation that can bore an audience more quickly than PowerPoint slides.
Okay, I know you are starting to curse at me now. Get rid of PowerPoint? Well,
maybe I need to restate that. You can keep PowerPoint, if you use it properly
and effectively and not as an eye sight test. Follow these simple rules:
1. Choose an easy font to read, such as Arial or Times Roman.
2. Font size should be at least 28 pt (bulleted items should be at least 22
3. Use colors carefully (reds and oranges are hard to focus on).
4. Don’t crowd too many words on the screen (3 lines of type is more than
5. Keep the slides simple, clean and easy to read.
6. View the PowerPoint presentation on the screen after you have created the
slides and prior to your presentation. Check for ease of readability. The slides
really do look different on the screen.
7. Don’t read the slides verbatim. Quite frankly, most of your audience will
be able to read the slide, so why repeat it?
I think the most powerful PowerPoints are those that use only pictures, a key
word or phrase or graphics. There is no reason to simply use a slide to repeat
what you have said. Instead, use a visual aid to reinforce your point. It is
true that a picture is worth a thousand words.
You should direct your audiences attention to the screen and back to you.
Simply turn your gaze to the screen for a moment or two and then look back to
your audience. These subtle cues allow your audiences attention to move from the
screen then back to you.
Give hand-outs after your presentation.
If you are making a presentation that has a lot of important and/or technical
information, you can provide a hand-out, but only AFTER the presentation. If
people have your slides while you are speaking they tend to read ahead or stay
glued to the hand-out and not to you. If you give them the hand out after your
presentation, it will reinforce all of your material without stealing attention
I know people hate to rehearse. It is hard not to feel silly when practicing
your speech. However, there is nothing that helps a speaker more than the
familiarity and ease you get from saying the words out loud. (Yes, it does make
a difference to say the words out loud.) I practice when I am in my car driving
alone or while on the treadmill at home. The shower can also be a great place to
Try these ideas with your next presentation. Even if you only use one or two
of these tips, you will have taken a huge step toward being the speaker that
your audience will be compelled to stay awake and listen to. No one will be
snoring in the back row.
About the Author
Laurie Brown is an international speaker, trainer and consultant who works to
help people improve their sales, service and presentation skills. She is the
author of The Teleprompter Manual, for Executives, Politicians, Broadcasters and
Speakers. Laurie can be contacted through
http://www.thedifference.net, or 1-877.999.3433, or at
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-06-16 13:58:38 in Personal Articles