As the preferred method of individual communication moves away from face-to-face conversation towards connecting via social media and text messaging, the trend within organisations is in the opposite direction: more and more presentations. What lessons can we learn from this contradictory situation and how can we turn it to our advantage?
First of all, if you’re uncomfortable addressing an audience directly, bear in mind that you have a great deal more control over the impression you make when you’re delivering a prepared speech or presentation than you do in the cut-and-thrust of a discussion in everyday life. It may take a bit of reframing for you to accept this but it’s honestly true – as I’ve said before, one of the chief joys of public speaking, in my view, is that you get to rehearse it. In the same way as you can manage your image on Twitter and Facebook, you can manage your image in a speech or presentation, simply by practising until your performance is the best it can be.
When you’re preparing your talk, focus on what you’re trying to achieve (ie, communicate with the audience). It’s odd how many people assume a speech or presentation has to be formal and sombre, dry and dispassionate. We’re living in an age of soundbites and shortcuts, fast-moving videos and 140-character tweets; modern communication is brightly coloured, loud and pushy, vying for a slice of our ever-shortening attention span.
I am not recommending you exhaust your audience by overwhelming them with speeding visual images and lots of noise but I am encouraging you to move away from the static grey and have the confidence to introduce some energy and fun into your talk. Compare your business presentation with a textbook, which is also aiming to impart information through words. Thirty years ago, textbooks were heavy going, requiring high levels of discipline and effort on the part of the student. They were, on the whole, formal and sombre, dry and dispassionate. These days, it’s a different story: modern textbooks are far more accessible than earlier ones were, because the writers understand that if they engage our emotions we will learn much more willingly and therefore more quickly and more deeply.
Exactly the same principle applies to public speaking. Far from being undignified or undermining your authority, giving your talk with enthusiasm, sincerity and humanity will vastly enhance your performance. It’s the difference between delivering another boring presentation and telling them something they might actually remember.