Author: Sherry Knight, President and CEO Dimension Eleven
When you present you may know exactly what it is you want to say and hopefully you have practiced your presentation a number of times. You might think to ask.
Tami is not too tall and quite thin – wispy some might say! Yet when she takes the stage in front of an audience she’s bigger than life. Why you might ask do we see her differently than she really is? It’s not difficult, much of it is how she moves towards her audience and how she presents herself.
Let’s look at this a little closer. Before she ever gets near the stage she has found out the colour of the backdrop. If you are presenting in a school classroom your backdrop may be a green board or a white board. Thus, you would not want to wear green or white or you disappear into the background.
Once I saw a Ted Talk with a very polished presentation from a very knowledgeable woman, or at least from her head. All we could see was her head – the background was black; her suit was black and she had black hair. Do your homework and find out what colour will be behind you.
Then, choose a contrasting colour for your outfit. There is nothing much you can do about your hair but you can about your clothing.
Some people choose a look that becomes part of their brand – think Johnny Cash and his black or Patricia Fripp who always wears hats when she presents. To make it easy on myself I often refer to a colour wheel so I can look for contrasting colours without having to worry about making an error. And, for all those out there who have been colour coded – remember, there are generally tones of every colour for every season.
Have a look at the internet, there are so many colour wheels to look at – choose the one that works best for you to see what colours go best with which colours and which ones contrast.
Tami also strides to the front of the room when she is introduced. She looks like she is excited to see her audience. She moves fast, she shakes the hand of her introducer and then she turns to you, her audience.
She turns forward, she plants her feet shoulder width apart, she looks throughout the room – from one side to the other and begins. Everyone sits and pays attention waiting, waiting, waiting.
Why does she stand with her feet shoulder length apart? Because it gives her more stability – se will not be knocked over by a puff of wind, an unnecessary challenge or something strange happening like a loud noise from the close by kitchen. As well, the audience recognizes this strong person can accept any question or comment from the group. Nothing will phase this presenter.
Perhaps this presenter wants to turn left or right. When this is needed, move the feet in the direction you want to face, not just the body.
To make a point you will at times want to lean into your audience. Standing strong allows you to lean forward enough to bring your face closer to the people immediately in front of you. Your stance is solid so as you lean slightly forward to make your point there is no possibility of you losing your balance.
When you want to show fast movement, you might move across your stage quickly and choose words that suggest speed (hipitty-hop, zoom, accelerated). Or if you want to suggest slowness you might put one foot in front of the other very slowly with language implying slowness (turtle speed, snails’ pace, creep along).
Sometimes you will need to walk up and down steps to get to the stage or to leave the stage and get close to your audience. Once again it is important to keep the balance – thus the need to keep your feet shoulder length apart as you climb or descend.
Do you sit while you deliver? Some do. This is fine – best though if you sit in a higher chair or stool than your audience is. If you are already on a stage above your audience your choice of a seat may be negligible.
If you are a tiny person you might consider sitting in your chair at an angle. You will take up more “space” and as such you will appear to be a bigger presence.
If, however, you are a large person, you might want to sit facing straight forward as you will take up less space. Tall people and those with a large girth may want to be conscious of their impact on some people in their audience.
In presenting we often focus on the topic and the content. This is only a portion of your presentation! Equally as important is the WAY YOU PRESENT. That is why you want to pay such close attention to how you are presenting. The way you present and carry yourself can quickly undo the content which may be strong and help people a great deal. You may remember the words, “It doesn’t matter what you say as much as it matters how you say it.” There is such truth in those few words.
Do you use props – things like glasses, flip charts, slides or displays? Glasses are great props! You can remove them, point them, look intently over them at a critical time. These gestures have impact. Your listeners are focusing on everything you say and do so do it with intent – what is it you want your audience to take away from this?
Many use flip charts – remember to write or print if you are not a great writer – ahead of time you may want to take a ruler and draw light pencil lines on the pages so you can write in a straight line. Write with dark colours such as black and blue and light colours such as reds, yellows and oranges for impact. Remember, red bleeds – be very careful what you have behind the page you are writing on. Always stand to the side of the flip chart when you are writing. Do not stand in front of the chart as people cannot see what you are writing and if you speak, your voice will go into the chart paper rather than out to your audience.
Slides are helpful. They help to reinforce what you are trying to say and sometimes you might put in cartoons or fun sayings or pictures that relate to your topic; yet lighten the situation. One thing to refrain from doing is to put something on your slide that cannot be read by the person sitting the furthest away from the screen. Always ensure you have the screen angled slightly towards the audience – this prevents key stoning – a strange way for the page to look.
Displays are great – for small groups of people. This is the epitomy of a visual – thus people WANT to see it. So, if you have a large group a display is probably not your best bet. Displays have different purposes. Some need to be to scale and thus you will want to address the scale. Others are there for the creative element and you will want to explain the creativity that went into the display.
Regardless of the type of display you choose to show ensure a few things:
Your stance is important, right from the beginning to the end. Pay attention to your body and how it can assist you in building your story.
And, above all, have fun with your presentation.