We all know the basics of communication because it’s the basis of our interaction with each other. Day in, day out, we communicate – through our words, our gestures, even our actions. It’s the stuff of life.
Why, then, do some presentations feel like they have no life at all?
Perhaps because we make an entirely artificial distinction between everyday-communication and presentation-speak. While outer modes of formality and form are unique (and essential) to official communication, the inner core is universal.
So why not take a few minutes to understand the patterns that are common to both? Knowing what works and why will make you more aware of what doesn’t work and why… This in turn will have the beneficial effect of reducing the frustration of miscommunication or communicating at cross-purposes.
Sender-Receiver: A conversation would be a monologue without both parties. An effective presentation is the beginning of a conversation to come. If your presentation sounds like you’re talking to yourself rather than to the people in the room, it’s a non-starter. When working on your presentation, try and visualize a conference room full of people. It will help you strike the right notes, initiating a dialogue once you’re done.
Code-Decode: This is the bedrock of communication. Every message is a code, which can be decoded only if the recipient knows the key, speaks the same language, and is on the same wavelength. Decoding is crucial to your message getting across. For this, you must know your audience. Use the right stimuli. Explain the jargon. Make interpreting what you are sharing easy. It’s easy to blame the recipient for not getting your point. But are you sure you’ve communicated it clearly?
Verbal-Non-verbal: Body language is a language that everyone knows, speaks and understands. Do remember that your posture, your gestures, your way of standing, your smile – all of it communicates. Often even more eloquently than the words you speak. Get colleagues to be your sounding boards, to give you feedback on your non-verbal communication – it will help make you a more engaging and authentic presenter.
Silence-Noise: They say silence speaks louder than words! In any human conversation, there are pauses and moments of silence, when you get the sense of genuine listening. Think about how you can leverage this in your presentation. Pacing the flow of verbal information is as important as pacing the speed of your slides. Both visually and verbally, reduce the noise and make silence work for you, allowing your audience to absorb and reflect in that moment of quiet before you make the next point.
Attention-Distraction: It’s human to get distracted! To insist on 110% attention to every second of your presentation may be too much to expect. What you need to do is what you do in real life – wait for the moment of distraction to pass (for example, when those cups of much-needed coffee are being served!); respond creatively, intelligently, perhaps even humorously to interruptions, weaving it into your prepared spiel. This will communicate confidence, competence and an ability to think on your feet.
In short, rather than attempting to reinvent your presentation-self from scratch, build on your everyday self. Every time you communicate better in a real-life or work situation, you are building a better presenter.
Good luck! And when you find yourself getting all knotted up and tense, just relax and remember: communication isn’t work – it’s life!