I have written a number of posts about communication skills with presentation skills as a subset of that. One of the techniques that I learned and practiced over the years was to chat with the attendees before the presentation. Well, how did this occur? Many of my presentations were for customers, associates and fellow professionals.
Since I began my professional career in sales and marketing, I actually knew many of the attendees at various product and marketing conferences because they were my customers and, it was natural for me to chat with them and share “war stories.” Later in my career as and HR Director, I knew and chatted with corporate associates as well as my peers and corporate leadership at various conferences and other venues.
Recently, I ran across a post by Bill Rosenthal in which he talked about some of the benefits of mingling with the audience. In one of my previous posts, Presentation Skills … No More Sweaty Palms!, I discussed several practical techniques. There is no question that knowing your audience is a definite plus. I had almost forgotten that I habitually did exactly what Bill recommended: Arrive early and mingle with the audience.
However, all five of Bill’s points resonated with me. You can read his original article here.
Here is my take.
1. Reduced Anxiety – If you know people or have friends in the audience, you begin with tangible and intangible support. As a “warm up” to the audience, I would often mention that I had become reacquainted with someone who I had not been in contact with for a period of time. The benefit of mentioning that, was that almost everyone turned around to see the person I mentioned, whether or not they knew the person. Instantly, the “room” was warmed up.
2. Calming Effect – Every presentation situation begins with a bit of anxiety, but obsessing and sweating is the exact opposite of what we should be doing. The combined benefit of greeting your audience is that you can learn more about them and therefore create a favorable and beneficial distraction for yourself. This activity will help you to relax and provide a positively focused activity.
3. Identification with the Audience – Bill Rosenthal said that, “stand-up comedians will tell you they are almost never heckled by their friends.” The corollary is that by mingling and renewing acquaintances, you have established your credentials as “one of them,” and the audience feel more charitable toward you. This charity is not boundless, so don’t overly rely on this factor. Do your research and be over prepared for your presentation.
4. Additional Information – Often, as you chat and mingle with your audience, you will be introduced to others and frequently acquire some information that can be used to make your examples and metaphors more relevant and powerful. You may be able to mention a name, company or story that increases your connection and credibility with the audience. You could introduce this information by saying something like, “Jim, you mentioned earlier that …”
5. Targeted and Tailored Presentations – Naturally, you have researched the audience during the preparation phase of the presentation so you know what is germane to their needs and interests. You can often learn more about those needs as you mingle with the audience. A second benefit is that you can make strategic adjustments to your presentation based on the latest information, marketing or survey results. Now, you are “dialed in” so you can focus even more directly on audience needs and increase the effectiveness of your presentation.
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