It is a rare occasion where, when a presenter asks for feedback on a presentation, I have no constructive suggestions to offer. In fact, I don't think that has ever happened. I am usually full of ideas to tweak and massage a presentation to make it more logical, more engaging, more memorable.
But I recently heard a conference keynote where, if I had been asked, I would have had no improvements to suggest. This unusual situation occurred at the American Society for Training & Development's International Conference and Expo in Orlando last week. Marcus Buckingham, the leader of the "Strengths" movement, was the opening keynote and he delivered an absolutely stunning presentation.*
Yes, he's very well known, comfortable speaking in front of an audience of 8,000, speaks frequently and probably has had coaching. And you may not be able to identify with any of those things. But as I split my focus between listening to his message and dissecting his technique, I concluded that his behaviors are ones we can all easily embrace to improve our presentations.
Let's take a closer look at those behaviors.
- Buckingham was incredibly passionate about his message. He was talking about his life's work and his expertise and enthusiasm showed clearly. When the speaker is authentically excited about his message, it is almost impossible for the audience not to be caught up in that passion.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Record yourself speaking passionately. Play it back to see if you would actually be enthused if you were sitting in the audience. Look for aspects or sections of your message that you can speak enthusiastically about and practice those.
- Buckingham brought an appropriate level of "theatre" to his presentation -- his pacing, tonality and facial expressions were all completely congruent with what he was saying at any given moment, much like an actor's. Clearly he had practiced this presentation and internalized it so he could focus on these nuances.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: While you may not think "theatre" is appropriate in your boardroom or staff meeting presentations, maximizing how you come across to your audience always pays dividends. It helps you look more polished and makes you easier to listen to. Watch stage plays, movies and excellent presenters and incorporate relevant techniques, personalized so they are authentic, into your presentations.
- Buckingham was very energetic and used his space confidently, which in this case was a huge stage with two screens on either side where he was being projected. He took advantage of the size of the stage by moving around the middle two-thirds and coming to the front when he was making a key point or letting the [8,000 person] audience in on a secret. He exaggerated any gestures so they were appropriate to the space.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: While you may not be speaking to 8,000 people anytime soon, being conscious of your space and using it to your advantage helps the audience see you as credible and comfortable. Don't present from behind a podium; move around purposefully in your space; move closer to the audience when you are making a key point.
- Buckingham's presentation was filled with wonderful stories and personal examples, all crafted to underscore his key messages and engage the audience. Not only were the stories sharply illustrative but they were delivered with exquisite timing.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Develop and practice stories that will help the audience better understand and "see" what you're saying. If storytelling doesn't come naturally to you, start with one story in one presentation and hone it to perfection by practicing it over and over. Have colleagues critique your timing -- are you building tension, are you delivering credible dialogue, are you pausing for audience reaction.
- Buckingham clearly enjoyed himself throughout his presentation. He was connecting with the audience, feeding off their laughter, laughing at his own jokes and smiling. Sitting in the audience, it would have been hard not to be engaged when the presenter was so engaged himself.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Be well enough prepared and rehearsed that you can enjoy yourself once you start to speak. Finish off slides before the last minute, allocate enough time for verbal rehearsal and arrive at the presentation location early so you can check the equipment and room set up.
You may never inhabit the world of famous speakers and huge audiences [and you may be deliriously happy about that!]. But these techniques will help you to engage and enchant any audience and make you a brilliant presenter in your own world.
* This is not the 2011 ASTD presentation but it gives you an equally good example of Buckingham's skill.