Presentation Skills: Introverts and Extroverts

I really liked the TED version of this presentation because of the way that Susan Cain talked about her own struggles as an introvert with public speaking. That’s not in this condensed version, but some of my other favorite parts are, including the research that shows that audiences find extroverts to be more persuasive and believable than more introverted speakers.

I love this kind of science, but the idea that extroverts are more convincing is understandable even on a common-sense level. Extroverts tend to be much more engaging and more enthusiastic, both of which help an audience pay attention and stay focused on what’s being said. Enthusiasm is particularly powerful because it can be quite contagious and help win people over to a presenter’s point of view. If you think about it, the RSA videos are kind of like the “extroverted” versions of the original talks. They’ve been edited and animated to make them more engaging and entertaining.

As a closet introvert myself, I know that I’m a much more effective public speaker because I make a conscious effort to be more extroverted. I try to bring as much energy as I can to every presentation, I tell my best jokes and stories in an attempt to be entertaining, and I talk to people that I don’t know in a way I’d probably never do if we were random guests at a party.

The difference between being an introvert and at least being able to act like an extrovert is often the difference between success and failure in a presentation. Maybe you’re not a natural extrovert, but a lot of people (including Susan Cain and myself) aren’t, and we’re doing passable jobs at public speaking. Can you manage to be an extrovert for 30 minutes? An hour? Try giving it a shot. If you’re still having a hard time, try co-presenting with someone who is more outgoing than you are. I find that I’m even more successful when I’m paired with someone who is an extrovert (or seems like they are one).

That doesn’t mean that I’m telling you to be fake, to put on a personality that isn’t your own. Audiences react badly when they perceive that someone is acting “phony.” What you want to do instead is be the best, most interesting and energetic version of yourself.

RSA Shorts–The Power of Quiet

Presentation Tips: Change Your Posture To Change Minds

Here’s a fun TED talk that serves to remind us that it’s not just what you say in your presentations that determines how successful you are, but that your posture matters, too. We’ve all heard that our physical appearance shapes how an audience perceives us and that much of our communication is non-verbal. What’s really intriguing about what Amy Cuddy has to say is that making an effort to change our posture can change the way we feel about ourselves as well.

Try giving it 20 minutes to watch the whole thing. The end makes a memorable emotional impact.

TED: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Presentation Tips: Be Yourself

Whatever kind of presentation you find yourself doing, it’s critical that you engage your audience and find a way to relate to them. But that doesn’t mean that you should pander or pretend to be something you’re not. Audiences are very good at detecting insincerity and are as unlikely to be swayed by an inauthentic performance as they are by Jason Sudeikis as Mitt Romney in this Saturday Night Live skit. They may not shout “we don’t believe you,” but they’ll probably be thinking it.

Remember to be yourself, but the best version of yourself possible.

Be Objectively Engaged with Your Audience

People’s fear of public speaking tends to collapse their awareness into themselves and lose track of what’s going on with their audience during a talk, but it’s important to observe them so you can see how they are reacting to what you say and adjust when necessary.

Make sure that you’re keeping an eye on your audience throughout your presentation (and not just pretending to make eye contact) so you can see if they look like they’re following along, if they seem to be in agreement with you, or are turning actively hostile.

Sticking to a script isn’t what’s important–it’s doing what you need to do to succeed. Sometimes you even need to just throw out your plans and do something else. We’ve given plenty of presentations where we abandoned our plans (and our slides) when they didn’t seem to be working or when a discussion took an unexpected turn in a productive direction.

Monitor your audience so you can gauge their reactions and don’t be afraid to improvise if you sense an opportunity.

Public Speaking Lessons from The Hunger Games: Be Yourself

For centuries, human beings have turned to literature for lessons about life. Homer (of both The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Simpsons). The Bible. Shakespeare’s plays. The Art of War. More than anything else, it may be our literature that makes us human.

At least that’s my excuse for using The Hunger Games to teach public speaking.

There are public speaking events scattered throughout all three Hunger Games novels. We see many rallies, speeches and interviews, and we’re told that Peeta’s real talent isn’t for fighting, but persuading an audience and winning allies. Unfortunately, it’s Katniss who finds herself being turned into a spokesperson for the rebels in Mockingjay, while Peeta is held as a prisoner of the Capital.

Readers of the previous books already know that public speaking has never been Katniss’s strength. She requires a lot of coaching. So the first step in preparing her to film rebel infomercials is, of course, to give her an elaborate makeover. After all, these are novels where Katniss’s outfits are often more detailed than the characters.

But her new look and the slogan written for her to shout fall flat on camera. No one finds Katniss convincing, so her former mentor convenes a meeting to talk about why:

“All right,” Haymitch says…. “Would anyone argue that this is of use to us in winning the war?” No one does. “That saves us time. So, let’s all be quiet for a minute. I want everyone to think of one incident where Katniss Everdeen genuinely moved you. Not where you were jealous of her hairstyle, or her dress went up in flames or she made a halfway decent shot with an arrow. Not where Peeta was making you like her. I want to hear one moment where she made you feel something real.”

When they do come up with examples of times when Katniss has done something touching, brave or kind, Haymitch asks what they all have in common.

“They were all Katniss’s,” says Gale quietly. “No one told her what to do or say.”

The lesson for public speaking is a good one, both in the universe of The Hunger Games and in real life. It certainly works for Katniss. Afterward she goes off to visit a rebel hospital (the occupants of which are almost immediately incinerated in a bombing raid), shoots down some hovercraft with her bow, and wins a huge PR victory.

You may never excel at archery, but remembering to be yourself can be a powerful weapon when you want to speak persuasively. Unless you’re a seasoned performer, playing a role when you speak to an audience is almost always too difficult to do convincingly and can actually turn an audience against you. Much better to let them see the real you.

As a bonus, being yourself should also render makeovers, stylists, flaming dresses and jumpsuits with wings unnecessary. Just pick something nice from your closet.

Planning Your Presentations: Message, Audience and You

Unfortunately there are no quick shortcuts, no “one weird tip”, that can make you a great presenter. Developing the ability to communicate your ideas effectively is just too complicated for there to be an easy fix.

But whatever kinds of presentations you do– and we’re all presenters these days– keeping a few big ideas in mind while you’re planning your talk can go a long way toward helping you achieve your goals. Making sure that you’ve clearly defined your Message, that you’ve taken the needs of your Audience into account and that You act as a good representative for your argument will make your presentations much more effective, whether you’re giving a keynote speech to a ballroom full of people or just hoping to charm your favorite barista into upgrading your latte.

Here I’m using that perennial junior high geometry favorite, the Venn diagram, to represent the way these three critical issues should overlap in your presentations, though you could also think of trying to manage them as juggling or as a balancing act. The main thing is that you need to engage all of them simultaneously.

If you can remember back as far as the seventh grade, the concept represented by the Venn diagram above is that you want to hit the sweet spot where all three concepts intersect; this is the point where you have the best chance of persuading your audience and achieving your objectives. Neglect one or more of these elements in your talk, on the other hand, and you risk losing your audience’s attention or making them start to wonder why they’re listening to you at all.

So take the time to figure out the relationship between all three elements of any presentation. Here are some questions about each that can help you make a good start.

Message:

This may seem like an obvious question, but what do you hope to accomplish with your presentation? Far too many talks happen for no other reason than that they’ve been scheduled. You don’t want your presentation to be one of those because there are few things that audiences resent more than having their time wasted; don’t leave them trying to figure out what you want. Try writing the objective of your presentation in one sentence and keep referring back to it to make sure that you’re still on track. If you can’t come up with a clear objective, think about whether you should really be having a presentation at all.

Audience:

It’s impossible to completely separate your audience for your message, and you should really never try to. You need to ask yourself who they are, what they already know, and how you want to persuade them every time you set out to develop what you’re going to say. Every audience is different and every audience will feel differently about you– so you need to plan accordingly. How will you target your message specifically for them? What challenges are they likely to pose?

You:

The first question you always need to ask yourself before taking on any presentation assignment is whether you’re the right person to give this specific talk. Are you qualified? Will the audience see you as authoritative? What preexisting feelings do they have about you? Sometimes you just have to say no or recruit someone else to help when you’re asked to give a presentation that isn’t well suited for you. If you do decide to move ahead you need to ask yourself how you will present yourself and “perform” for this audience. What’s the right tone?  What should you wear?  How will you interact with these people?  What can you do to make this presentation as successful as possible?

You’ll never be guaranteed that a presentation will be successful; I’ve had talks interrupted by building evacuations and disrupted by feuding audience members. But planning your presentation around your Message, your Audience and You will help make you a much more effective speaker.