Learnit Training

4. In the spotlight

The presentation has been written out, the slides have been made. Now all that remains is to present it!

A monologue is different from a dialogue. In a dialogue you get an immediate reaction, people nod, reply and you yourself respond back. A monologue in front of a group is a different story. The group behaves like a group and will not feel compelled to look at you with an interested nod the whole time. Beginning presenters sometimes get the idea from this reaction, which in a dialogue would indicate complete disinterest, that what they are doing is uninteresting and that the audience is 'against'. Think of the famous example of a man drowning in a pond. This man has a much better chance of being saved if there is only one person around. This person is approached by the man in distress and jumps into the water. If a whole group is watching, a group effect occurs. Nobody is addressed personally, and there is a good chance that the person who jumps into the water first is too late to save the man.

Be prepared for a group to react differently than a single person.

A monologue does not mean that you will not make contact with the audience. Many people have a tendency to protect themselves from the group. This is done by fearfully standing behind a lectern, hiding behind a written text and read-out slides or by shielding oneself with one's arms crossed.
That is no way to make contact. You can only make contact if you show yourself! If all goes well, you will have a substantive story in which your involvement (and if possible passion) is woven into it. You have made supporting slides and no slides to hide behind. The content is ready. Now you have to show it (through yourself) in your presentation.

You may have written out the story you are going to tell, but you are not going to read it. You are going to tell it from memory. Fluently, with facial expressions, gestures and an expressive voice. In your hands, at the most, you hold a small cardboard card with key words and the controls for the Powerpoint. You stand in the middle of the spotlight. You show why you are here and what you stand for. You are going to shine. You are going to make contact with the audience. You are going to make them feel involved in your story.

Out of sight, almost naked in the spotlight, no hiding places: that's never going to work! Michel and Bas panic slightly. That is not necessary. A lecture presentation does not work anyway. There is hardly any eye contact with the audience, which means the audience is not involved in the presentation. The audience sees nothing of the presenter, the presenter has no facial expressions and makes no gestures. Plus recitation is often done very monotonously.

body posture

A lot of practice will make speaking by heart fluent and natural. When speaking by heart, it is much easier to make contact with the audience. Make lots of eye contact with the audience, look around the room. If you have difficulty looking around, choose a few people to look at before you start, so that you can look around. Do not focus on one person for too long. (Not more than about 4 seconds.) Make sure you stand up straight, legs slightly apart. Hold your hands in front of you as if you were holding a tennis ball (or the cardboard!) or along your body. Speak with expression in your voice and vary your pitch and volume. Speak clearly, articulate deliberately and speak loudly. After practising for a while, your talk will come more and more naturally and facial expressions and hand gestures will follow naturally. You can do it all a bit larger than you would normally do in a dialogue, as you are at a greater distance. Again, do not do anything you would not feel comfortable with. Michel, who is known as the man with a heart for his people, does not have to give a flashy and commercial presentation. It is important that the public continues to recognise Michel. He has to shine, but as himself!

Carlijn does not know her audience yet. She too has to try and make herself shine. The best thing is for the audience to get to know her a little during the presentation, so that after the presentation they have an idea of who Carlijn is and what she wants to achieve. After all, you prefer to do business with people you know.

Question Time

After the presentation, there is usually time for questions from the audience. Take the time for this. It often takes a while before the first question arises, and if the presenter hurries away, there will be few questions. Do not be afraid of questions. Look the questioner in the eye when he asks his question. Summarise the question for the audience and check with the person asking the question whether you have worded it correctly. Answer while making eye contact with the whole audience again. Never get defensive, remain open, courteous and professional. Do not respond to the man, even if you are being attacked. The group will stand up for you if you remain professional. If you don't know something, don't worry. Summarise the question so that you are sure you have understood it correctly. Don't beat around the bush, be honest that you don't know the answer, but possibly make an appointment how you can come back to the question.

After the question round, it is time to close. Thank the audience and indicate the place where any handouts can be taken.

Exercises: In the spotlight

  1. Stand in the mirror, introduce yourself and do your elevator pitch. If possible, record yourself. In image and/or sound. Watch yourself in sound and vision. Evaluate how you stand and sound. Where are your arms? How is your eye contact with yourself in the mirror? How is your expression? How is your voice?
  2. An exercise to shed your shame. Ask for help from some friends or family (more than two). Have them each time name an animal, a famous Dutch person or a fairytale figure. It is up to you to represent this task with sound as well as possible. Of course it is strange to imitate a turtle, but you get used to it and, more importantly, it pays off. You get used to acting in front of an audience and to using your body and voice.
  3. A voice exercise. Read a children's story aloud and standing up. Use the following voices:
    • Cockroach squared
    • Street urchin
    • A Surinamese accent
    • A Drenthe accent
    • Frans Bauer
    • Miss Ant
    • Miss Piggie
    • Like a king
    • A stock market boy
    • A witch
  4. Search YouTube for presentations by famous Americans and for presentations by children. Americans teach you a lot about professionalism in presenting. Sometimes they only lack credibility and authenticity. The children's videos can inspire you to be authentic. Tips: King, Clinton, Bush, Oprah. Look at what they do, what they say, how they say it (example, story, anecdote, use of statistics, figures of speech?), how they use their voice, how they look, how they use their body.
  5. Practise your presentation, standing up, out loud and in full. Practise using PowerPoint together. Always finish the presentation, even if it went wrong on the way (otherwise you get the effect that the beginning of the presentation goes much better because it has been practised more often). While practising, make a card with the keywords you need. Remember: presenting naturally is a matter of lots of practice! Go on.
  6. Record your entire presentation now. Look at yourself critically. How are you standing, are you looking properly at the (not really present) audience, how is your facial expression, your use of voice, your posture, your use of Powerpoint. Is the content of your presentation clear? Is it simple? Is there a clear structure?
  7. Ask for help from a few friends or relatives. Ask them to listen to your presentation on two evenings and ask them to give you honest (constructive) criticism beforehand. On the first evening you present the presentation as you have prepared it. Afterwards, ask everyone what they thought of it and make a note of their reactions. Actually do this. Then ask specific questions: What was the most important thing I wanted to say? How was my voice? How was the tension? What did you like best? What did you think was the worst? How was my visual support? How was my body language in my face and gestures. Did you feel involved in my story?
    Review the evaluations the following morning and see what you can improve. The next day, present the presentation again to the same group of people. Compare the reactions: was it better, worse or the same?
  8. Practise until you know the presentation inside out. This will reduce your nerves on the day itself.