Imagine you’re presenting to a small group of some 10-15 listeners. You project slides which you describe in great detail and you stand next to the screen to point out details.
Imagine you’re presenting at a congress, from the stage and mostly from behind a lectern. Just as with the small group you want to go into greater detail about something on the screen so you walk to it and indicate with your hand. You are generously illuminated by the projector and are now talking loudly because your microphone is back at the lectern.
Despite all developments in techniques and presentation technology, and the availability of presentation trainings, this sort of ‘presentation disaster’ continues to happen.
How do you think you would come across to your audience if you were to behave like this?
The language you use communicates only some 7-20% of the information. The other 80-93% consists of a complex of non-verbal signals such as the speed at which you speak, your facial expressions and your posture.
The physical distance between you and your listeners is also one of these non-verbal signals.
It plays a significant part both in supporting your message (‘content’) and in communicating your desired image (‘packaging’).
Imagine for a moment that you want to be seen as distant, conventional and formal.
That’s easy to arrange: read long, grammatically complicated sentences aloud without looking at your audience from behind a large lectern far away at the back of the stage.
Imagine, however, that you want to come across as friendly, client oriented and enthusiastic. Then it’s essential that you behave in a radically different way from in the previous example.
You come closer to your listeners, both physically and in your language. You no longer need the protective barrier of a lectern or presentation table and you present ‘up front’ with a cordless microphone.
In short, the distance which you maintain is an important carrier of your desired image.
You’re the one who determines how much space you take up and what barriers there are, unless you give all the responsibility to an organiser who may or may not have any idea of presenting. Which is a considerable risk, when you consider what’s at stake!
The Irish writer, George Bernard Shaw, once said that there are two sorts of people. There are those accept the circumstances they find themselves in, and change themselves. The second sort changes the circumstances!
It’s truly amazing how many speakers behave like ‘victims’, and how few speakers take charge of their circumstances.
Make it clear in advance what you need, how you want it, where you want it, and when.
Change what you can change, and have the wisdom and professionalism to accept and deal with those elements that are impossible to change.
The basic rule is: never create distance by moving away from your listeners to point at or on the screen. Ensure that you never move between the projector and the screen – unless the projector is turned off.
Always come closer to your listeners.
Stand to one side and use a gentle sweeping gesture with your arm towards the screen.
Avoid at all costs any hectic waving movements!
If you’re right-handed, stand to the right of the audience (that is, the right side of the room as seen by the listeners) and gesture with your right hand.
Look at your listeners and use words to direct the attention precisely where you want it:
Here you can see the three most important categories of your product range. Let’s run through them one at a time. The first item is then the abc category… which you’ll surely recognise…
Where possible, always use different words than are on the screen.
Generally, your listeners can read well and faster than you can speak, so it’s up to you to paraphrase and add interesting details.
It will be clear to you from the examples that it’s ridiculous for a speaker to walk back down a stage to point something out on a huge screen.
For many speakers it’s less obvious that the same is true when presenting to small groups, and that there are benefits to reducing the physical and literal distance to the listeners.
Use the lay-out of the room or stage to support you.
‘Powerful people take up more space’ is a significant adage which should support you in using the space you make available: left and right; nearby; and make gestures from the shoulder, not just from the wrist or elbow.
Make sure you stop and stand still every now and again.
Make sure that you occasionally just let your hands drop.
This calmness in your body is precisely what you need to emphasise your otherwise dynamic movements.
You’ll surely appreciate by now that it’s to your benefit to get your listeners involved as much as possible in your presentation.
The more you involve them, the more involved they feel in both you, what your telling and the solution you’re offering.
And the more involved they feel, the better the chance of reaching your goal.
Express your message in descriptive colloquial language, short, positive sentences, the present tense and active verb forms.
Use the non-verbal packaging of functional movements and gestures, lively facial expressions, variation in your voice (including silence!) and suitable choice of clothing.
The right, varied distance – with the emphasis on close – plays a vital part in supporting how you communicate.
The choice of how close you dare to come is a decision that’s up to you!