We have all been there; sitting in an intriguely-titled workshop at a professional conference, excited to learn what knowledge the expert speaker is going to bestow on his or her audience, only to be disappointed by a drawn-out, dry, generic lecture designed for a room of 500 people. Or maybe the presenter asks for our input without providing their own expertise. These scenarios are unlikely to create positive results.
Maybe you were that presenter. People tuned out and you don’t know why. Sometimes when we find ourselves presenting so often that we don’t take time to evaluate our performance. No matter the case, we can always use these few tips to be a more engaging speaker:
- Understand your audience.
A great speaker understands what his or her audience knows and what they intend to learn from his or her presentation. Do I need to explain the basics? Do they already know the basics, so I can get right into the meat?
Dynamic speakers understand the context of their presentation. Are you presenting to a room full of impatient business-types who want their information quick and direct? Or maybe at a student orientation where your audience has sat through several presentations and needs a pick-me-up? Understanding this context will help your audience to receive your information.
- Know your material.
This seems like a given, but I’m constantly surprised by how often I walk out of a presentation wondering how much I learned from the presenter. Being an expert about what you are presenting is imperative because your audience is listening for the purpose of learning from you.
Choose to engage in speaking opportunities that fit your expertise. This is a surefire way to make sure your comfort level will be high. Do your homework and prepare for common inquiries on the subject so you are less likely to be thrown off your rhythm by questions.
- Make your points clear and concise.
Keep your list short and drive home your points succinctly. I just had to cut down that last sentence to make sure you’d feel that effect. The best speakers I’ve encountered have had a short list of learning objectives and hit them clearly.
We all want to share a lot about the subjects for which we possess great expertise, so it’s easy to get carried away. Twenty minutes can quickly become 30 or 40 if we don’t pay attention. Leaving time for questions is essential, especially for a small group. Worst case scenario: you finish early. I’ve heard far more people complain about going late than finishing early.
- There is no replacement for rehearsal.
Practicing allows for comfort to develop with your material and how you are presenting it. Ultimately, you would like to be in front of this group without any cues or cards, so the more you practice the more you will remember.
Practicing removes variables. Someone who is uncomfortable speaking in front of a group can become easily distracted by their audience, their material, or fleeting thoughts. Working to make your presentation routine will create a flow of your speech that is engaging and exciting.
This post is part of our #SACareer series, addressing careers in student affairs, careers outside of student affairs, and the work of career services professionals. Read more about the series in Jake Nelko’s intro post. Each post is a contribution by a member or friend of the Commission for Career Services from ACPA. Our organization exists to benefit the careers of career services professionals, student affairs professionals, and anyone supporting students in the career endeavors. For more information about how to get involved with the Commission for Career Services or the #SACareer blog series, contact Jake Nelko at email@example.com.