Delivering Persuasive Presentations
The Winning Attitude


Dr.Meenakshi Singhal
Senior Lecturer
Department of Communications, College of Engineering
University of Petroleum & Energy Studies

The master key that opens the door to powerful delivery is honest connection with your audience. Outstanding speakers know that they must at every moment be connected with the real people in the audience, for a real purpose that matters to those people, and without hiding behind any slick "stage personality." This is what generates the trust essential for persuasion.

You may object that in most of your presentations, you're only selling "technical information," with persuasion rooted entirely in "objective" criteria. But our experience with many organizations strongly suggests that this is the wrong view. You're always selling a package: people want the facts, but they also want to know that you are trustworthy and committed to helping them or to seeing a project through. And they get this essential information about trustworthiness and commitment not from the numbers and charts you present but from the way you connect with your listeners.

The starting point: a caring attitude

Getting properly connected begins with the right attitude. Do you really care about your listeners and about giving them something they need? Once you have that attitude, you'll find it easy to express it with your body, face, eyes, and voice. If you don't have it, even the best "performance" will seem fake and leave your listeners uncomfortable and suspicious.

Check your preparation. From the outset -- while preparing your presentation -- you should have developed a real appreciation of your audience. Just who are they, and what do they want? How does that fit in with what you want them to do or believe? As you get ready to deliver your presentation, once more review your material. Have you found the best angle, the one that connects you most strongly to this audience? If not, are there any quick adjustments you can make in your message?

In particular, keep your message positive, even (or especially) when you bear unwelcome news. Your listeners are never yearning for negative news or criticism. So, if you want them to change, give them positive, not negative reasons for doing so.

Learn to love any audience. Really appreciating your listeners and their needs presupposes that you like them. This is where some people have a big problem. Their thoughts are dominated by fear of the audience, and that leaves no room for liking. Or they may resent a particular audience. This is sure to transmit itself, no matter how polished your style, and the audience will turn against you. Many will not even hear what you have to say, let alone accept it.

We witnessed one corporate staffer (a smooth, experienced presenter) ruining a carefully prepared presentation because of this basic mistake. He was talking to a group of engineers about the importance of Total Quality Control. It soon became apparent, from subtle signals, that he neither liked nor respected his listeners but saw them as obstacles to his quality goals. They promptly became resentful and resistant to his suggestions.

So, as you get ready to give your presentation, take a look around and find something likable about everybody. One thing we've found helpful is simply to notice how different everybody is. For some reason, this seems to make it easy to start with a smile. Something similar may work for you.

Check the setup. Exceptional presenters do everything they can to make the audience feel comfortable. Be early and check that the room is clean and inviting. Remove extra chairs, and get rid of flip chart pages left over from a previous presentation. And, of course, check all equipment and lighting. The cumulative effect on the audience is a sense that you respect them enough to make this a "special occasion." Removing extra chairs and clutter will also make it infinitely easier for you to connect physically with the audience. (How connected can you be when you address a lot of empty chairs?)

Beating stage fright

Stage fright is simply the result of caring too much about yourself and not enough about the audience. That implies the best cure: redirect your focus where it belongs.

Most people don't realize how radical you have to be about this. "Caring a bit" will do nothing for you; you've got to "ham it up" and love the audience without reservation. Think of fear as the Devil waiting out there to get you. The safest way to ward off that Devil is to make a pact with God -- and we all know that God is love. But you can't make half a pact, because the Devil would immediately smell what's going on and claim you anyhow!

We often observe this failure of the "half-pact" in technical presentations when a speaker feels it unnecessary or inappropriate to relate strongly to the audience. At first, things may go well; but soon the audience returns the lukewarm feelings. The speaker picks this up and becomes increasingly unsettled, until stage fright has him firmly in its grip.

Don't let this happen to you. Make sure you're well prepared, with a message of value to your audience. Then keep firmly focused on getting that message across to a bunch of people whom you like and respect a lot. There won't be any room left in your mind for that presenter's dread, stage fright!

Dr.Meenakshi Singhal
Senior Lecturer
Department of Communications, College of Engineering
University of Petroleum & Energy Studies

Source: E-mail July 28, 2006


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