What do you know about the game-changing presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon? In brief, Kennedy, a young, little-known senator, faced off against a favored incumbent — and won.
How did he do it? Kennedy’s on-screen presence propelled him to victory. He appeared calm and confident on camera, which connected with the audience. He didn’t simply cite information and answer questions. He talked to people. The difference is critical, and an important technique to remember when presenting — on-screen or otherwise.
Yet today, most webinars and presentations consist of someone reading bullet points from a PowerPoint slide — an off-putting method that does not connect with people on any level.
Clearly, virtual presentations are challenging, since they lack the one-to-one, in-person connection, so in today’s short-attention-span/I’ll-just-pay-attention-to-my-mobile-device world, it is crucial to draw people in. And keep them drawn in.
Whether you are on camera, on stage, or presenting one to one, be mindful of the little details. Maintain good posture, make eye contact, and use hand gestures. Natural gestures exude confidence and draw the audience in. It can make a significant difference, especially in the first few moments of a presentation.
Fidgeting, however, has just the opposite effect. Twisting, tapping, or twirling a pen can sidetrack the attention from your presentation. “Unnecessary movement is a distraction when you present in person, and is amplified when you present online,” said Nancy Ancowitz in Forbes.
In today’s multi-tasking world, it is harder than ever to hold people’s attention. So it is of the utmost importance that you make your presentation more interesting than any of the distractions. Text-heavy PowerPoint presentations are not the way to hold people’s attention in the Instagram Era. Make your visuals count, reinforcing your message and holding their attention.
Keep It Moving
According to the book, The Exceptional Presenter Goes Virtual by Tim Koegel, “The pace and timing of your virtual presentation should be quicker than it is during your in-person presentations. I’m not suggesting that you talk faster. I’m suggesting that you establish a more upbeat tempo. You can’t allow your virtual audience to become bored. You have fewer tools and techniques at your disposal to regain their attention. All aspects of your virtual presentation must be efficient. As you prepare, think of every possible way to streamline your material.”
Why Presentations Fail
“When things go wrong, we can’t just blame the technology,” said Koegel. “The technology is simply the vehicle for supporting the message to the audience. The number one reason virtual presentations fail is from a lack of planning.”
As the saying goes, “If you fail to plan, plan to fail.” Even individuals who like to work off the cuff will deliver better presentations that are well planned and practiced. In short: those who practice improve. Those who don’t — don’t. Before Kennedy’s debate with Nixon, an aide found him sound asleep and covered with preparatory note cards. Similarly, it is said that renowned orator Winston Churchill “wasted some of the best years of his life preparing for his impromptu speeches.” Koegel’s advice: practice. Then: practice some more.
Ready to Present?
Surveys suggest that people fear public speaking more than they fear heights, bugs and even death. But a little knowledge and a lot of preparation can turn that challenge into an opportunity.