The ideas for this week’s 3X were contributed by Tom Harris.
Sound Like Your Content
Communication is a multi-dimensional activity. It involves multiple senses and areas of our brain simultaneously. Our ideas are obviously important. How we phrase them is essential. When we present them, visuals can amplify their impact. But often, we ignore the effect of how we sound. This is primarily noticeable when there is a dissonance between our words and how we say them.
When talking with people in general, let alone talking to an audience, you should match how you sound to what you say. Toning down a dramatic message is as bad as sounding over-excited about a trivial statement. Any such gap is immediately registered in the listeners’ minds, even if unconsciously. At best, it sounds strange, but it is often perceived as not credible.
Make Your Audience Feel Unique
If you wish your audience to be attentive and present — to be invested in what you have to say — you must show them you are first investing in them. Your audience should feel like everything you say takes them into account — as if it was designed specifically for them.
Many speakers fail at the very beginning when they casually mention the history of the talk they are about to deliver. Their intention might be good, but the subtext is often “I didn’t invest time in you — I just had this prepared already for someone else.” And that’s never a good starting point in terms of audience engagement.
Design your content for your audience, and even if you reuse most of it, make it feel like you thought specifically about them when you designed it. Sometimes you will have to adapt some things to make the content more accessible. Occasionally, you might want to spice it up with new concrete examples the specific audience can relate to. But even if you don’t need to adapt anything, don’t let the audience feel you are just reusing something designed originally for other people. Make them feel unique.
Create an Immersive Experience
When you stand in front of an audience, your goal is to make them focused on what you have to say. You want them immersed in the content and feel like you are talking to them directly. Unfortunately, many technical aspects of delivering a talk might distract you and your audience and pull them out of that immersive experience.
The most common one is referring to your slide deck. Any time you mention the mechanics of the presentation, like asking someone to move to the next slide or saying, “we’ll get to that in a couple of slides,” you break the focus of your audience. Instead of focusing on what you say or show, they become aware of the technical details. It is like seeing a music show where the band constantly gives the sound crew instructions.
If you use a presentation, make it a seamless part of what you say. Don’t refer to any technical aspect, and don’t even look at it. Each slide should add some value to what you say, but it should not be distracting. It should enhance the experience and not break it.