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Advises to the Speaker

An accumulated experience of successful and unsuccessful presentations

Below follow some observations and notebook notes. Some of them are based on my personal experience; some are supplied by experienced speakers who are people one can learn a lot from. There is no particularly rigid structure to these notes, but I'll be happy if you find some of them to be of use. This list is going to grow gradually, and the present article will be marked with the current date at each update, so that you could easily keep track of them.

1. Come early.

If you come early you can speak to participants of the event, establish some personal relationships. Personal contacts help to communicate with the audience. A good speaker would always know several people in the audience, and a personal address or two can add a lot to the enlivening of the presentation. At least, coming early is a good way not to be late: could you imagine anything worse?

2. Leave souvenirs.

It is best to distribute a summary of your talk or a disk with your presentation. Our clients hand out presentation DVDs and/or summary booklets. This practice provides several advantages. First, visitors are left with a proof of your words: it always help to build up confidence. Second, if people don't go empty-handed, they regard this information as something belonging to them. As for the DVDs, people keep them and even review them at home.

3. Never apologize.

According to the Anglo-Saxon law, to apologize is to acknowledge one's guilt. That is the way it looks. "If he apologizes, he's guilty; if he's guilty, he should be punished". How can the audience punish the speaker? Simply by not listening to him. Therefore, don't apologize if your computer hangs up, or if you don't know how to answer a question. Apologies are especially dangerous if the audience is supposed to vote. If you apologize once or twice during your talk, it would be extremely difficult to obtain the desired results of the vote.

4. Check all the equipment in advance.

When stakes are high, it is better to use your own equipment rather than relying on whatever is available in the lecture room. E.g. many American devices can only read the NTSC format, so they may fail to replay a PAL DVD recorded in Russia. One cannot foresee everything, although one should try.

5. Be ready for the unexpected.

And react calmly. I witnessed a talk that was interrupted by a fire alarm siren at the very beginning; everybody (about 500 people) was driven out of doors, kept there for some 20 minutes, then let back inside. The speaker went calmly on with his talk having made a joke on it being nicer both to speak and to listen 'having a fresh mind'. And the fire alert proved to be a training one.

6. Thoroughly prepare your information depending on the type of your audience.

Producing a presentation is, first of all, a dramatic art applied to information. A presentation should be 'for an audience' rather than 'on a subject'. Have you ever noticed how boring it can be to listen to a speaker talking about his company? Rate of growth, local branch network… The cause his talk is about himself, it doesn't concern you. See more on this subject in Bureaucracy in Presentations.

7. Make use of exhibits.

The legal principle known as the 'Best Evidence Rule' stipulates that only a real object that was involved in the events can be used as a proof. If you talk about something and you can bring that something to the lecture room and show it, make sure to do it. This is the practice of the best lecturers, the best lawyers, and the best speakers. The effect would surpass all expectations.

8. Use visual images.

They (and quite often, nothing else) are what remains in people's memories for the rest of their lives. A single picture can tell more than several pages of text. Their efficiency is amazing. We prepared several accompaniment projects for parliamentary talks in 2002-2003; all of them employed visual images, and all resulted in desired votes. I would not presume to say that our contribution decided the success; but the fact that the deputies paid a due attention to the speaker's ideas and proposals, that these ideas were correctly understood, and the audience felt it was treated with a respect, is an undeniable truth. See more on the use of visual images in The Visual Language.

9. Don't save on design and technologies.

Carl Hovland, a classic of the Persuasive Communication theory, distinguished the three stages of persuasion: Attention, Comprehension, and Acceptance. A quality design and a competent usage of technologies are responsible for the two first components of a successful persuasion. In addition, they reveal your respect of the audience and the event, build up the reputation of your company as well as your personal reputation.

10. If you like or don't like something, say it.

A personal attitude of the speaker towards the material he presents is a very important, and grossly underestimated, persuasive factor. Phrases like "I love this example" or "Personally, I don't trust this information" draw attention and provoke interest. Speaker's apathy, on the contrary, makes the audience indifferent: "If he doesn't care, why should I?"

11. Create 'events'.

The term 'eventfulness' was invented by psychologists. It implies that people are only attracted by events. Now an event is anything standing out against the monotonous background. Daniil Kharms (a Russian absurdist author) has once counted seconds marking that nothing happened within each past second. Having thus recorded a sequence of 100 observations (100 seconds) he concluded that nothing at all can ever happen. The situation with the presentations is the same. Changing the tone of your voice, the tempo of the music, the style and format you use to present your materials, going from the stage to the audience and back, using striking animation effects: all these are events, which means that something happens in your presentation. Therefore, it is worth while to follow it with an interest.

12. Be brief.

 

Andrey Skvortsov
CEO, Mercator group


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