Smashing Presentation Myths – Part 2

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Myth Two = Look at the person you are speaking to wherever possible

In my first blog on this subject, I talked about pace – and how you can reproduce your natural rhythm of speech when you present, rather than follow the myth that slowing down your speech rate improves your presentation delivery.

In this second of five notes, I will explain how you can get your eye contact right when speaking under pressure. The conventional wisdom here is that you should get as much as possible. Read almost every piece of advice about eye contact and all you get is “look at the person you are speaking to wherever possible”. This is a myth. My contention is that this is not natural behaviour, and therefore it will appear inauthentic to an audience. What is more, it is very difficult for you (a speaker) to use notes or scripts effectively if you are trying to get as much eye contact as you can. The effect is sporadic glancing at notes – look at almost every political speaker for examples of this – and very little effective engagement with an audience.

My advice is to think about what you do in relaxed conversation, your best style, and repeat it. In a conversation, we don’t always look at the person we are speaking to while we are talking, but we always look at the person we are speaking to when we have finished. In other words, we land our message by looking for a response after having made a point or delivered a thought. We commit to what we have said and ask the listener to acknowledge that and respond if they want to. Look at all the great speakers and you will see consistency here – if you look at your audience after you have delivered an idea, then you invite them in as part of the conversation. If you look away at this crucial point – as conventional advice dictates, then you shut them out and dismiss thought, because this is the time when you are actually communicating with an audience. Remember – “it is not what is said, but what is understood that defines effective communication between people”

Have a look at some videos of Clinton or Barrack Obama and compare their technique to Gordon Brown and you will see exactly what I mean.

So – to summarise the take-aways after my first two blogs:

DON’T:

  • Slow down your words thinking you will help listeners to understand you
  • Try and look at your audience all the time when speaking

DO:

  • Reproduce a natural, conversational rhythm of speech all the time – punctuating ideas with good pauses
  • Make sure you look for response from your audience after you have delivered ideas – during the pauses

Next week I will be talking about the best way to use notes, and scripts, in order to take advantage of the techniques above. Good luck.