This was originally posted on Evoke.pro in October 2014
“WHAT were you thinking?!”
This thought keeps going through my mind.
I had volunteered to speak to 9-14 year old girls at Washington University’s “Engineering Adventure” day sponsored by the Society of Women Engineers.
No girl wants to grow up and be an engineer at age 9.
All kids know what doctors, teachers and artists are. But engineers? I'm a mechanical engineer, and I’m even hazy on the definition.
Now I'm staring at a blank powerpoint template.
I've presented to some tough crowds before: law enforcement, CEO's, Homeland Security, plant technicians. Nothing seems as hard as presenting engineering to a group of girls.
What was I thinking?
Fast forward two weeks.
I had a great time.
I spoke to 40 girls, plus parents, Girl Scout Council members and engineering students. The girls were lively and engaged. Some I hope will become engineers. Everyone, the girls, adults, and students had questions or comments.
Then something happened I didn't expect:
Moms told me they loved HOW I presented, and some wished I had spoken to them when they were girls. They realized they could have been engineers too.
And I learned a valuable lesson:
Speaking is for the listener.
Not the speaker.
I used to focus on what I wanted my audience to know. Now I focus on WHO I'm speaking to, and what they need. That's changed everything, and today I’m connecting better and more persuasively with my audience.
You can too.
Here are 5 presentation tips your audience will love
Speak to someone, NOT at everyone.
I imagined an audience of one and designed my talk for her. I put myself in her shoes: What does she want to know? How does she feel? What is she afraid of? Who does she listen to?
Designing for one helps focus the message. The clearer you are about who you are talking to, the clearer you can envision their concerns, hopes, and questions that need to be addressed.
After you speak your entire audience will say, "Wow, the speaker was speaking to ME."
Connect with emotion, NOT logic.
Logic doesn’t win hearts over, emotion does. Focus on sparking a connection, then interest will follow. Logic works when your audience is interested.
Before you write your presentation, identify the ONE emotion you want your audience to experience. Outline with this in mind. Then when you’re done, look at the flow and check: does the flow reinforce the connection you’re trying to make?
In my case, I wanted the girls to think and say, “Oh. wow. I CAN be an engineer.” Then when I prepared my presentation, I knew what tone I needed to have for every slide.
Convey concepts, NOT details.
The brain is wired to remember key concepts before details according to John Medina, author of Brain Rules. Prioritize the 2-3 things you want your audience to remember and focus on engaging your audience at the concept level.
In my presentation I wanted the girls to remember 2 things:
An engineer is someone who likes to solve things like mysteries or puzzles.
YOU can be an engineer.
Stop pushing details on people. When you make a connection with your concepts, the audience will pull you for more specifics.
Communicate with pictures NOT words.
Human are visually wired. It only takes 150ms for a symbol to be processed and 100ms to attach a meaning to it! (Speed of Processing in the human visual system).
Use pictures and your audience will automatically be more engaged.
This visual is part of a fun infographic from NeoMan Studios
Use analogies, NOT explanations.
When concepts are new to people, it’s easier to absorb them using a reference that is familiar. For example, I used activities the girls would know and showed them how engineers did the same thing.
Pair the analogy with a picture and story and your audience will connect better and faster!
Present in a way your audience will love.
You'll enjoy it more too. Stop staring at that blank screen, and hoping for an emergency excuse to bow out. Use these tips and create an engaging talk that excites your audience.
Warning: you may volunteer to present again next year.
Interested in improving your presentation skills? Take a look at these posts on Evoke.
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