Giving great presentations isn’t all about being charismatic or perfectly eloquent, it’s about knowing how to engage your audience. Have you ever wondered what actually makes a speaker engaging? I believe it’s their ability to relate to and be relatable to their audience. To discuss the things that matter to the people that are listening. To understand what questions are bubbling beneath the surface and pre-empt them. To frame up their message in such a way that it makes sense to others, no matter what area of the business they come from.

Great speakers understand that speaking is less about them and more about meeting the needs of their audience. And whilst you can’t always pre-empt exactly who will be in the room with you. You can focus on building your awareness of the different types of people you are likely to have in the room and their preferred communication styles.

So, here’s my top tips for engaging your audience:

1. Recognise your way of communicating will generally only resonate with the people who share your communication style

For the rest of the audience, you may as well be speaking Japanese to a Frenchman! Whilst it may not be quite as dire as that, it’s one of the core reasons that people become disengaged and switch off. It’s important to understand that people have different learning and communication styles. Think about the way you like to communicate and what works best when you’re listening to someone else. A good indicator is whether you’re focussed on listening or struggling to stay awake! More often than not, we get good engagement from those just like us and struggle with those that have a different communication preference.

2. Build awareness of the different types of communication styles

There are courses to help with this, however, here are a few ideas to get you underway. Start paying attention to the differences in the way people present. For example, you might be the person that loves jumping to the white board and is happy speaking off the cuff. Or the one that prefers taking people through a detailed agenda, step by step. Or if you’re demonstrating something, some people need to actually do it themselves and be talked through it before they get it.

Listen out for the following in discussions:

  • Big picture bullet points versus a lengthier detailed discussion
  • Decision making – are they quick to decide or do they need more time and repeated discussion before they are sold on the idea
  • How they ask for further clarification e.g. can you draw me a picture, walk me through etc

3. Develop flexibility in your communication 

Experiment with mixing up your style using the elements listed in item 2 and see what different reactions you get. These are all guides to how they like to be engaged with. The key here, is to focus in on the feedback your audience is giving you and respond to that. It may seem unnatural at first, however the more you practise the easier it will become. The more adaptable you become, the greater reach of engagement you will get.  Before long you’ll notice that you are building relationships much faster too!

4. Lose attachment to the script

“Death by PowerPoint” is a common affliction. It is more important to have a structure to guide you than to follow a detailed script. Having a structure allows you to be a tour guide to communicate the ideas and engage people using the different communication styles. Once you’ve learnt the communications structure, you can talk off the cuff with ease. 

You can still use PowerPoint if you have to, just be smart with it. Be ok with having a picture or phrase on screen that reminds you of what you’re going to discuss rather than reading everything word for word. Its ok to pause if you need to or refer to notes off line, feels much more engaging for your audience and less robotic! Less is more. You can always send out more information later. 

5. Let your personality shine through

Treat it like a conversation because after all, it is! The more you can be yourself, the more relaxed you’ll be and the more congruent your message will be. When you try to be someone else and stray away from your normal communication style, it will stand out and detract from your message, making you less believable. 

6. Focus on being present and you’ll forget about your nerves

There are techniques you can learn to calm you beforehand. However, nerves predominantly appear when you are focussed on yourself, how you’ll look, what people will think of you etc. Basically, you’re stuck in your head instead of focussing on engaging the people in front of you. When you shift your attention to get really present to your environment, the room, your audience, then your nerves disappear. When you are fully present, you are more able to assess how engaged your audience is and adapt your style if required.  

If you’d like to learn more about how you can deliver engaging presentations, you can:

  1. Check out the FREE online training ‘The Language of Influence’ on Friday 1st February
  2. Attend Michelle’s upcoming “Speak with Confidence and Impact” 2 day course on 7th-8th March.