A speech or presentation can easily seem like a one-way street: You send, your audience receives, and that’s it.
Yet that’s not how a good presentation works. In a dynamic speech or presentation, information passes back and forth continuously. It’s true that most of that information is verbal on your part and nonverbal on the part of your audience. Yet every presentation involves the give-and-take of information and sensory input. So every good speech is more dialogue than monologue, and we must pay attention to the nonverbal communication coming our way as our audience’s “speech.”
If we do so, we remain flexible and conversational with our listeners. The benefit of this situation, of course, is that most people are persuaded when someone is talking to them rather than at them.
At this point you might ask: “How can I possibly converse with an audience that’s sitting out there in silence?” Like so many aspects of public speaking, it just takes practice. Here’s a good way to sound conversational with audiences:
Interpersonal Skills Are Also Presentation Skills
The next time you discuss a topic that really interests you, pay attention to how you express yourself vocally and physically. Hear how lively and animated your voice becomes? Notice how you move; the gestures you employ; how you use facial expressions. What about the way your volume, pitch, tone, and vocal quality change as you express your thoughts and feelings on this topic?
Now, consciously bring those nonverbal aspects of your communication style into your practice sessions as a speaker or presenter. You may feel awkward at first, because you’ll be intentionally transferring speaking behavior from one situation to another. But don’t worry about that. You’re simply teaching yourself to be more like your natural speaking self, not less.
Next, ask a friend to sit in as a practice audience. Ask him or her to tell you whenever you don’t sound like the real you.
In this way, session by session, you’ll be nudging your presentation persona toward your natural conversational style rather than an artificial style.
And the real you is the one that’s unique and interesting for audiences.