When you step onto that stage, or into that boardroom, or in front of those students, or behind the mic for a webinar, or the many other circumstances that precede a presentation, you're never presenting alone. Now, that may be true simply because you're part of a group of people presenting, but even if you're solo, you're never really alone. That's because you're just one part of the presentation equation. The audience is the other HUGE part of that equation.
It's no secret that having an audience on your side will make a presentation seem easier, less stressful, and even fun! But with so much effort put into learning the content, designing the presentation, and practicing the delivery, the audience is often overlooked. The presenter is seemingly "head down" as they start their presentation, focusing only on the one-way communication coming from them. However, great presentations are conversations, and the audience is 50% of that.
What's important to note is that the "conversation" doesn't have to be verbal. While presenting, especially virtually, the interaction with the audience is done through other means, even if it's a supporting nod, a raised hand, a submitted question, or an interested stare.
The audience is so important, and making sure your audience is on your side is key to ensuring a smooth and interactive presentation. While the key to my heart is through my stomach (feed me!), offering coffee and donuts isn't enough to ensure that your audience will remain engaged and interested throughout. So here are three sure fire ways to win over your audience.
- Greet your audience as they arrive
This is one of those "sneaky yet effective" tips because I really don't see a lot of presenters doing this. Obviously it lends better to live, in-person presentations, but even on a webinar you can make some announcements and interact with the audience (to an extent) prior to the webinar. In order to do this effectively, you have to arrive early enough to set up ALL of your presentation needs so you can give ample time to meet and greet your audience as they arrive (instead of using that time to test your remote or run through your slides one more time). Greeting your audience before you present, as opposed to simply "appearing from behind the curtain." will familiarize your audience with you (and you with them) and even allow you to find allies and dissenters you can call on later to encourage discussion. Try to remember names for more wow-factor.
- Offer a high-quality takeaway after the presentation
Without exception, after every presentation at least one audience member asks for a copy of the slides. A great way to exceed their expectations is to offer them something better than the slides. With my standard presentation about effective presenting, I give away printed copies of my ebook. It's a far better recall device than trying to gaze at my slides which use far more images than works. You don't have to write an ebook, but give them more than just black and white printouts of your slides. This can be as simple as a well-written word document. At Seth Godin's Linchpin presentation, nearly every ticket-holder received a free book as well as a free poster (seen below, hanging on my office wall). He even autographed the books as well as long as you were willing to wait in line.
- Be on time, every time
There's nothing that can turn a good crowd bad than to disrespect their time. If your presentation is only supposed to last an hour, you better believe they are leaving satisfied with the content and their questions answered in under an hour. Your audience is sacrificing something (time, money, productivity, etc) to listen to you speak, so you owe them at least enough respect to get them out the door when you promised to. That doesn't give you the right to speed through your last few slides either, which happens way too often for my liking. They deserve all the content as well.