10. The Need for Engagement

We say that the best presenters and public speakers are the ones who engage their audiences the most. We praise the best teachers for being able to connect with their students. With or without multimedia, engagement is key. Yet if you ask a hundred people for a definition of engagement, you’ll get a hundred different answers. So what is engagement? For me, regardless of the topic, engagement is, at its core, about emotion. The need to appeal to people’s emotions is fundamental, yet often neglected. It’s about the emotions of the speaker and his or her ability to express those emotions in a sincere manner. But mostly, engagement is about tapping the emotions of the audience to get them involved on a personal level with the material, whatever it may be.

Like it or not, humans are emotional beings. True, logic is necessary to persuade us, but it is rarely sufficient. To be effective presenters, therefore, we must appeal to our listeners’ right brains, or creative sides, as well. Here’s what the authors of Why Business People Speak Like Idiots (Free Press) say:

“In business, our natural instincts are always left-brained. We create tight arguments and knock the audience into submission with facts, figures, historical graphs, and logic…. The bad news is that the barrage of facts often works against you. My facts against your experiences, emotions, and perceptual filters. Not a fair fight—facts will lose every time.”

We really have our work cut out for us. Our audiences bring their own emotions, experiences, biases, and perceptual filters that are no match for data and facts alone. We must be careful not to make the mistake of thinking that our data can speak for itself, no matter how convincing, obvious, or strong it may seem to us. We may indeed have the best product or solid research, but if we plan a dull, dispassionate, “death by slideument” snooze-fest, we will lose. The best presenters engage by tapping people’s emotions.


Emotions and Memory

Reaching people at an emotional level can get attention, but it can also help your material be remembered. If you can arouse the emotions of your audience with a relevant story, an interesting (and relevant) activity, or a remarkable image or piece of data—for example, that is unexpected, surprising, sad, disturbing, and so on—your material will be better remembered. When a member of your audience experiences an emotionally charged event in your presentation, the amygdala in the limbic system of the brain releases dopamine into that person’s system. And dopamine, says Brain Rules author Dr. John Medina, “greatly helps with memory and information processing.”

In a sales situation, for example, ask yourself what it is that you’re really selling. It’s not the features or the thing itself but the experience of the thing and all the emotions related to it that you are really selling. For example, if you were selling mountain bikes, would you focus on the features of mountain bikes or would you focus on the experience of using the bikes? Stories of experiences are vivid and visual and bring people’s emotions into your narrative.

Mirror Neurons

A mirror neuron fires in the brain not only when you do something but also when you see someone else doing the same thing, even though you have not actually moved yourself. It’s almost as if you, the observer, are actually engaging in the same behavior as the person who is engaged in the action. Watching something and doing something are not the same, of course, but as far as our brains are concerned, they’re pretty darn close.

Mirror neurons may be involved in empathy as well. This is a crucial survival skill. Research has shown that the same area of the brain that lights up when a person experiences an emotion also activates when that person merely sees someone else experiencing that emotion. When we see someone express passion, joy, concern, and the like, experts believe the mirror neurons send messages to the limbic region of the brain, the area associated with emotion. In a sense, then, there is a place in the brain that seems to be responsible for living in other people’s brains—that is, to feel what they are feeling.

I used the two slides above in a marketing presentation to remind people to think again about what it is they are really selling. Is it the thing or the experience of the thing? (Images in slides from Shutterstock.com.)

If we are wired to feel what others feel, is it any wonder that people get bored and disinterested when listening to someone who seems bored and disinterested, even though the content may be useful? Is it any wonder we feel stiff and uncomfortable while watching someone on stage barely move a muscle except for the muscles that make the mouth open and close? Too many presentations today are still given in an overly formal, static, and didactic style that removes the visual component, including the visual messages expressed through movement and displays of emotion. An animated, natural display of emotions enriches our narrative as it stimulates others to unconsciously feel what we feel. When you are passionate, for example, so long as your passion is perceived as genuine, most people will mirror that emotion back. Our data and our evidence matter, but the genuine emotions we project have a direct and strong influence—for good and for bad—on the message our audience ultimately receives and remembers.

Power of the Smile

Smiles are contagious, yet they must be real. You can try to fake a smile, but people can tell when you don’t mean it. In fact, some studies show that if you give an insincere smile, audiences may perceive you as projecting an untrustworthy or hypocritical image. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, says there are essentially two types of smiles, the “Duchene smile” and the “Pan American smile.” The Duchene smile is the genuine smile, characterized by movement of the muscles around the mouth and also the eyes. You can tell a real smile by how the skin around the eyes wrinkles up a bit. The Pan American smile is the fake smile that involves voluntary movement around the mouth only. This is the polite smile you see from people in the service industry who are doing their best but not having a great day.

We can all recognize an insincere smile. But a presenter or entertainer who actually looks happy to be there (because he or she really is) is well on the way to engaging the audience naturally. Genuine smiles show that we are happy to be there. And because people in our audience can feel what we feel, why wouldn’t we want them to feel at ease? While you may think it’s only your words that people should remember, your audience will actually recall much of what they saw, including your facial expressions, and what they felt.

“There are a variety of smiles. Some smiles are sarcastic. Some smiles are artificial-diplomatic smiles. These smiles do not produce satisfaction, but rather fear or suspicion. But a genuine smile gives us hope, freshness. If we want a genuine smile, then first we must produce the basis for a smile to come.”
—Dalai Lama

Lessons from Queen at Live Aid

In a 2005 survey conducted for a Channel 4 (UK) special called The World’s Greatest Gigs, Queen’s 1985 Live Aid performance was voted the best live performance ever. Today—especially given the renewed awareness and nostalgia of that performance due to its reenactment in the 2018 Academy Award–winning film Bohemian Rhapsody starring the Oscar-winning Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury—most people still consider that 21-minute set to be the greatest live rock performance ever. Queen played well, but what made the performance the most memorable in rock history was Freddie’s total commitment to the moment and to that audience. On that day, Freddie Mercury provided a master class in engagement and presence. It may only be rock-n-roll, but there are lessons in Freddie Mercury’s performance for us all.

Preparation is key.

Because they were only one band among many famous acts—and were even a last minute addition—it would have been tempting for Queen to merely coast through their set, but it was apparent that they were well rehearsed and had thoroughly prepared for this particular occasion. Being well prepared allows you to relax and be fully in the moment.

First impressions matter.

Freddie entered from the back curtain, jogging out to the front of the stage exuding complete joy as he pumped his fists in the air exhorting the crowd, as if to let them know that this day was really about them and he loved them for coming. If you watch the video of the performance, you’ll notice that just before Freddie sits down at the piano after playfully interacting with the crowd, he cracks a huge smile, not a nervous smile that one might expect, but an honest from the heart smile that said he was one hundred percent present and loving it.

Keep it simple.

Queen were known for the props and extravagant backdrops of their live shows, but at Live Aid there were no theatrical props to lean on. Only the bare essentials. Nothing superfluous. Commenting on the sparsity of the stage at Wembley in an interview before the event, lead guitarist Brian May was not bothered by it saying, “It all comes down to whether you can play or not really.” Even Freddie’s clothes were simple: just jeans and a white tank-top.

Remove the barriers.

Freddie did everything he could to get close to the crowd, gesturing and pointing to all areas of the packed Wembley Stadium and moving right up to the edge of the stage. On occasion, he jumped down to the lower stage, which was meant only for the monitors, to get closer to the audience. He played to the entire crowd, not just the front row.

Make it a shared experience.

Freddie’s body language throughout the entire set suggested this was a most joyous occasion and a shared one. For the entire set, the audience was participating by singing along, hands raised high and double-clapping in unison or punching the air along with Freddie during “Radio Ga Ga.” When Freddie went into his call and response with the audience—Ay Oh!—he had them eating out of his hand. There are lessons there for us too. Get the audience involved. Face the crowd, work the stage, don’t stay in one place. Move with purpose.

It’s about them.

“Every band should study Queen at Live Aid,” says Dave Grohl. “If you really feel like that barrier is gone, you become Freddie Mercury. I consider him the greatest frontman of all time.” A refrain I often repeat is “it’s not about us, it’s about them.” Freddie Mercury embodied that ideal. The show was always about the audience. Freddie actually was a calm, low-key individual off stage, but on stage he was one of the most engaging performers in a lifetime. What Freddie Mercury’s performance reminds us all is that there is great power in putting the audience first and doing whatever we can to remove barriers to total engagement.

Stimulate Their Curiosity

Physicist Michio Kaku says, “We are born scientists.” What he means is we are all born insanely curious creatures—that’s how we learn. Showing your curiosity and stimulating it in others is a powerful emotion for engagement. Curiosity can be ignited and stimulated by a good presentation, or it can be all but extinguished by a poor presentation. Most business presentations today fail to stimulate the curiosity of the audience members because they are dull, one-way information dumps.

Maybe this is something we learned in school, at least starting from our secondary-school days. From my experience, and based on the countless e-mails I get from teachers around the world, the problem today in many schools is that the traditional methods of instruction do a poor job of nurturing students’ natural curiosity. This is nothing new. Einstein said in his 1951 book, Albert Einstein: Philosopher–Scientist (edited by Paul Arthur Schilpp), “It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty.” Children go through much of their childhood driven by a natural and insatiable curiosity, but as Dr. Kaku says, in too many cases the methods of instruction in schools result in “crushing curiosity right out of the next generation.”

Kenichiro Mogi, a prominent brain scientist in Japan, says the curiosity of a child is something we must keep with us always. We must keep our sense of wonder he insists. “By forgetting how to be curious we are losing something really valuable. Because curiosity is the single most important trait that brought us here today.” The best presenters and the best teachers are the ones who demonstrate their curiosity and passionate interest in their subjects. A presenter who demonstrates his own curiosity inspires and cultivates the natural curiosity in others. It’s impossible to fake curiosity and wonder. The best teachers guide, coach, inspire, and feed that natural flame of curiosity that lives within every child. The best presenters are the ones who are not afraid to show their unbridled curiosity and passionate sense of wonder about their work.

Curiosity Is Infectious

A good example of a person who presents important information with an infectious sense of curiosity and wonder is Swedish medical doctor Hans Rosling. Yes, Hans’s Gapminder-powered data visualizations are very compelling on stage. However, he shows his passionate curiosity and engages his audiences by the way he speaks, with exclamations such as:

Do you see that?

Look here!

This is amazing!

What do you think happens next?

Wasn’t that surprising?

This is the kind of language that engages the listener. Hans Rosling brings the data alive through visualizations and taps people’s emotions by putting the information in the context of a story, making it accessible to all who will listen. He also brings his own brand of dry humor, and humor is one of the most powerful forms of emotional engagement of all.

Men have become the tools of their tools.

—Henry David Thoreau

Engagement Is Not About Tools

Many people talk about technology as if it is a panacea for boring and ineffective presentations. Digital tools have, in many ways, increased the quality of communication and engagement for live presentations. This is especially true when engaging with people live on the other side of the planet via tools such as video conferencing, webinars, Skype, and so on. Yet, while our technology has evolved in dramatic ways over the last generation, our fundamental human need for connection, engagement, and relationships has not changed. Companies today promote their bells and whistles and whizzing animations as elements that are guaranteed to engage. However, we should be very skeptical about such claims. The use of more and more tools and effects often leads to distraction.

Eiji Han Shimizu is a Japanese filmmaker and creator of the award-winning film Happy. In his 2011 TEDxTokyo presentation, entitled “Happy?”, Shimizu underscored the idea that it is not always more that makes us happy, but rather it is the intentional selection of less, an aesthetic at the heart of traditional Japanese culture. “A blind march toward progress that’s based on distraction, temptation, and consumption may not bring happiness,” Shimizu says. Applying this sentiment to the modern age of presentation technology and digital tools, we could say that too many of us are marching to accept loads of software effects, tricks, and techniques in the name of progress and engagement. As more digital tools become available at a faster pace, it may be the intentional selection of less that actually leads to the most engagement and the best presentations.

Remove Barriers to Communication

I’m not a fan of the lectern (also referred to as the podium). Yes, it has its place, and sometimes its use is unavoidable. But in almost every speaking situation, standing behind a lectern is like standing behind a wall.

Lecterns can make a speaker look authoritative and in command. This is why politicians love speaking from behind them. If you aim to look “large and in charge,” then perhaps a lectern is appropriate for you. But for most of us—conference presenters, teachers, sales reps, etc.—the last place we want to be is behind a wall. Also, lecterns are often placed to the side and back from the edge of the stage. In this case, you are not only behind a barrier, any visuals you use are the main focus and your physical presence is very much diminished. It’s possible for both you and the screen to be front and center, which is where people are naturally going to focus their attention—but you’re going to have to move away from the lectern.

If you present from behind a lectern, you may, more or less, sound the same and the media may look the same, but it’s not ideal. In fact, it’s far from ideal. The connection is lost. Imagine if your favorite singer performed from behind a lectern. Ridiculous, of course. Imagine, too, if Steve Jobs had given his famous keynotes with the same slides and same video clips, same jeans and black turtleneck, but did all the talking from behind a lectern. He might have sounded the same. The visuals might have looked the same. But the connection and engagement would not be there.

Generally, the lectern is “so last millennium,” but there are times when its use is perfectly acceptable, such as when multiple speakers take turns at center stage during a formal ceremony. Graduation ceremonies are a good example. But when people have walked in that room specifically to hear you, learn from you, and be convinced or inspired by you, then you’ve got to do whatever you can to remove all walls—literally and figuratively—between you and the audience. It’s scary and takes practice, but it will make all the difference.

A very common scene is shown above. Here there are three layers of barriers between the presenter and the audience. First, the lectern is a physical obstruction that, depending on its size, obstructs almost the entire body of the presenter. Second, the PC itself is a small barrier between the speaker and the listener, an obstruction that often receives far more of the speaker’s eye contact than the people in the audience. Third, the distance itself becomes a barrier of sorts. Lecterns are usually placed far from the screen and/or far from the audience. As much as you can, remove the walls—all of them—and step away from the lectern and the PC and get closer to your audience to encourage engagement with you and your material.

Redux: Presentation Lessons from Steve Jobs

On the morning of October 6, 2011, I sat down at the kitchen counter at our home in Nara, Japan, with a cup of coffee and turned on the news to check the day’s weather forecast. Instead the network issued a special report from the U.S.: “Steve Jobs has died.” My heart sank.

Except for a couple of e-mails and occasionally saying hello to Steve at the Cafe Macs salad bar on the Apple campus in Cupertino, I never had much direct contact with him while I worked at Apple. Still, I was deeply, deeply saddened by the news of his passing. If truth be told, it was Steve’s special ability to connect and engage a large audience in such a natural and simple way that first attracted me to Apple a generation ago. I had read all the public speaking and presentation books over the years, of course, but it was Steve Jobs’s presentation skills from which I learned the most by far.

I saw virtually every keynote presentation Steve Jobs ever made since 1997 (and all the archived videos before then), and while I was with Apple I never missed a special employee event or town hall meeting on campus. Although I touched on lessons from Steve Jobs a few times earlier in this book, what follows is a summary of some of the most salient lessons from the master of the keynote presentation.

Know when not to use slides.

Multimedia is great for presentations before large groups such as keynote addresses or conference presentations, but in meetings where you want to discuss issues or go over details in depth, slides—especially the bulleted list variety, which are never a good idea—are usually counterproductive. Jobs was well known inside Apple for hating slide presentations in meetings. “I hate the way people use slide presentations instead of thinking,” Jobs told biographer Walter Isaacson when describing meetings upon his return to Apple in 1997. “People would confront a problem by creating a presentation. I wanted them to engage, to hash things out at the table, rather than show a bunch of slides. People who know what they’re talking about don’t need PowerPoint.”

Jobs preferred to use the whiteboard to explain his ideas and hash out things with people. There is a difference between a keynote and ballroom-style presentations (and TED talks and similar events) and a meeting around a conference table. Most productive meetings are a time for discussion and working things out, not simply going through a bunch of slides. Save the multimedia for the larger presentations. The tips below mainly concern presentations for larger audiences.

Remember that even on stage, multimedia is not always needed.

In cases where you want to create more of a town-hall feel and generate discussion with the audience, consider pulling up a stool at the front of the stage to tell your story. The few times that I saw Steve Jobs address employees in the Town Hall Auditorium at 4 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, he did not use multimedia, and instead sat on a stool at the center of the stage to give his report and field questions. This instantly felt more like a conversation. As much as I love multimedia, sometimes it just does not fit the occasion.

Be very clear and very focused.

In the preparation stage, you must be ruthless in cutting the superfluous from your talk, both in terms of content and in terms of the visuals you use. Poor presentations, no matter how good the visuals or even delivery may be, result from poor planning and a lack of focus on what your core points are and the key messages that you want people to take a way. Steve Jobs was laser sharp in his focus in almost all business matters, including the planning of his presentations. Focus, as Jobs said when talking about products, means that you often need to say “no” to things. You can’t cover everything in a presentation; have the courage to cut the nonessential. Most presentations that fail do so because they include too much information and display it in a cluttered way that does not engage the brain.

Develop rapport with the audience.

Jobs usually walked out on stage, all smiles, without any formal introduction over the PA. Jobs showed his personality, which was confident but humble and friendly, on stage (an image he did not always project during meetings with his employees). People are attracted to confidence—but it must be confidence, combined with humility. Jobs used natural movement on stage, eye contact, and a subtle friendliness to establish a connection with the audience.

Give them an idea of where you’re going.

You do not need an agenda slide, but give people an idea where you’re going, a bit of a road map of the journey you’re taking them on. In Jobs’s case, after a simple, friendly greeting he often began with something like: “I’ve got four things I’d like to talk about with you today. So let’s get started. First….” Jobs often structured his talks around three or four parts with one theme.

Show your enthusiasm.

You may want to tone down your enthusiasm at times, but most presenters show too little passion or enthusiasm, not too much. Each case is unique, but enthusiasm can make all the difference. Jobs’s enthusiasm was subtle, but you could detect it in his tone and the words that he chose. In just the first few minutes on stage, Jobs often used superlatives: incredible, extraordinary, awesome, amazing, revolutionary. You can say his language was over the top, but Steve Jobs believed what he said. He was sincere. Yet the point is not to speak like Steve Jobs—or move around like Steve Ballmer—but to find your own level of passion and bring that honest enthusiasm out in your work for the world to see in your own style.

Be positive, upbeat, humorous.

Jobs was a very serious person, but he came across in presentations as an extremely positive person because he deeply believed in his content. He was upbeat and positive about the future, even in hard times. Reality distortion field or not, this positive energy is the image he projected on stage. You cannot fake this—you must believe in your content, or you cannot sell it. Jobs also brought a little humor to his talks. This did not mean telling jokes. His humor was more subtle. Making people laugh occasionally through subtle uses of irony is engaging.

Focus not on the numbers, but on what the numbers mean.

A business keynote by a technology company is different from a scientific presentation at a conference. But isn’t it always about what the numbers mean rather than just the numbers themselves? So your cholesterol is 199, the national average. Is that good or bad? Up or down? Is “average” healthy or unhealthy? And compared to what? When Steve Jobs talked about numbers in his keynotes, he often broke them down. For example, he may have said something like 4 million iPhones sold is the equivalent of 20,000 per day since the units went on sale. 20 percent market share? In and of itself that does not mean much, but the meaning becomes clear when he compared it to others in the field. When presenting data, always ask yourself “compared to what?”

Steve Jobs’s keynotes always featured high-impact visuals.

Jobs balanced his high-impact visuals by occasionally having the screen behind him contain no information at all, the equivalent of placing blank slides or spaces in your visual narrative. This places all eyes on you. (Photos on this page by Justin Sullivan/iStockphoto.com.)

Make it visual.

Jobs used huge screens and large, high-quality graphics for his keynotes and special events. The images were clear, professional, and unique—never from a template. Charts and graphs were simple and beautifully clear. There was never “death by bullet point.” Jobs used the screen to show visual material and only occasionally for displaying short lists. He displayed data in a way that the meaning was instantly clear. Not every presentation requires photos or movie clips, but if you do use multimedia, make it simple, yet of high quality.

Introduce something unexpected.

Jobs’s presentations always had something new. But he also surprised audiences just a bit each time. Humans love the unexpected. We love some element that makes us go “aah!” The brain loves novelty.

Vary the pace and change techniques.

Jobs was good at varying the pace from fast to slow and changing the flow by using different techniques. He did not stand in one place and lecture, a very bad way to present. Instead, he mixed in video clips, images, stories, data, different speakers, and live hardware and software demos. Just talking about information for one or two hours is much too boring for the audience (and for the presenter). If the talk were only about information and new features, it would be more efficient to give that information out in a handout for people to read when they have the time.

Go the appropriate length.

Jobs never included unnecessary details and finished on time. He was aware that presentations cannot go on too long and got to his points smoothly and quickly. If you cannot explain why your topic is important, interesting, and meaningful in 20 minutes or less, then you do not know your topic well enough. Try to make talks as short as possible while still making the content meaningful, keeping in mind that every case is different. The key is not to fill your audience up; you want them to leave wanting just a little more.

Save the best for last.

People will make an assessment about your performance in the first two minutes, so you have to start strong. But you have to finish even stronger. People best remember the first part and the last part of your presentation. The middle stuff is important, of course, but if you blow it at the beginning or at the end, all may be lost. This is why you have to rehearse your opening and your closing so much. Jobs was famous for his “one more thing” slide where he saved the best for last—after it appeared he was finishing.

Steve Jobs often talked about changing the world, and he did change the world in his short 56 years on this planet. His incredible dedication to detail, simplicity, and aesthetics raised the bar for technology, business, design, and beyond. He even raised the bar for presentations. In spite of his mercurial nature, he was a master. He was a true sensei.

When Jobs showed numbers, they were big and impossible to miss. In this photo taken at Macworld 2008 in San Francisco, he is announcing that over five million copies of Mac OS 10.5 were purchased since its release. (Photo by David Paul Morris/iStockphoto.com.)

Jobs always made good use of images to compare and contrast features. In this photo, he is introducing a new iPod Nano during an Apple special event in 2007 in San Francisco. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/iStockphoto.com.)

Get Close to the Audience

My experience teaching and presenting in different parts of the world over the past 20 years has taught me that the physical distance between a speaker and the audience—and the distance between the audience members—has a great influence on the ability to engage and be effective. The spatial context has a great impact on nonverbal communication and the quality of engagement. Ideas concerning personal space vary among cultures, but as much as possible, engaging an audience means being close to the audience. In addition, it helps if your audience members are close to each other. Within physical limitations, as a general principle we must (1) shorten the distance between ourselves and the audience, (2) bring individual audience members closer to each other while remaining sensitive to local perceptions of personal space, and (3) remove any barriers between us and the audience that create separation, whether it’s actual distance or merely a perception. Perceived distance, for example, is created by using language that is too formal, inappropriate, or industry specific for a particular audience. Technology, too, if not used well can create a feeling of distance that diminishes engagement regardless of how close you may physically be to the audience.

Large conferences will typically place large monitors—sometimes called “confidence monitors”—in front of the stage or behind the audience. But if no monitors are available, you can get the same effect by placing your computer, which is connected to the venue’s AV system, down low in front of the stage. In this case, I can see the computer easily from anywhere on stage, yet it is hardly noticeable to the audience.

Here, the computer is not placed on a lectern on the side, but is instead placed in the center, serving as a kind of monitor for me, yet the computer is out of sight of the audience. The audience only sees me and the screens behind me.

In this office venue in Tokyo, there is a large screen at the back of the room so it is not necessary to use my computer as a monitor; it can stay off to the side. No matter where I walk on this stage, I can keep eye-contact on the audience while still always knowing what is projected behind me.

Use a Small Remote to Advance Visuals

I see a lot of presentations given by very smart people. Despite their intelligence, all too often presenters use a remote poorly (as if it’s the first time they’ve seen such a device) or not at all. Even today, too many presenters stay next to the computer on a table or lectern or walk back to the computer to change slides every few minutes.

Remote control devices for computers are relatively cheap and an absolute must. No excuses, you’ve got to have one. If you are not currently using a remote to advance slides, adding one to your delivery style will make a huge difference. The remote allows you to get out front closer to the people, move to different parts of the stage or room, and make those connections.

When we stay glued to the laptop and look down to advance every slide, our presentations become more like slide shows with narration—the kind your uncle used to bore you with when he whipped out his 35mm slide projector with highlights of his latest fishing trip. Yawn.

Remember, you want the technology behind your presentation to be as invisible as possible to the audience. If you use technology well, your audience will not even know (or care) what actual digital tools you are using. But when you have your hand on the computer and your eyes are moving back and forth from the computer screen to the keyboard to the audience or projection screen, it becomes more like the typical slide presentations that people complain about.

If you are giving the kind of presentation that requires a computer for more than simply advancing slides, then it’s fine to occasionally go to the computer to start a program, demonstrate a website, and so on. However, you should also move away from the computer when you do not have to be there.

A small and basic remote is all you need. I prefer small remotes with only the most basic features. You can buy remotes that you can mouse around with on screen and are equipped with myriad other features, but they are large and call attention to themselves. All you really need is the ability to advance, go back, and turn the screen black. Very simple.

Use the B Key

If you use slideware in presentations, one of the most useful keys to remember is the B key. If you press the B key in PowerPoint or Keynote, your screen becomes black. (Pressing the W key creates a white screen.) You can even build black screens into your presentation by inserting black slides at various points in your talk when you want to shift all attention away from the screen. Pressing the B key is very useful, for example, if a spontaneous but relevant discussion diverges a bit from the visual information on the screen. Changing the screen to black removes information that may have become a distraction and puts all eyes on you and the people engaged in the discussion. When you are ready to proceed further with your prepared points, just press the B key again (this feature is on most remote controls as well), and the slides display again.

If the screen is allowed to fade to black, all of the attention will now focus on the presenter standing front and center. You can place empty slides when you design your talk for planned visual breaks in your narrative. But you can also make the screen go dark at any moment by pressing the B key on your computer (or remote control). This is particularly useful if a discussion develops that makes the on-screen image irrelevant or distracting.

Leave the Lights On

If you are going to engage an audience, they have to be able to see you. When the audience can actually see your eye movements and read your facial expressions, they will better understand your message. The audience members are interpreting meaning based on verbal (your actual words), vocal (your voice), and visual (your nonverbal language) cues. Your nonverbal signals are a very important part of your message, but if people cannot see you—even if they can see the screen fine—much of the richness of your message will be lost. So although it is tempting to turn the lights off to make the visuals look better, the most important thing is to keep the light on the presenter. Often, a compromise can be worked out by dimming only some of the lights.

Given the advances in projection technology, it is often possible to keep all or most of the lights on in conference rooms and lecture halls today. Auditoriums usually have better lighting setups that can keep lights on the presenter but off the screen. No matter what kind of presentation situation you are in, make sure there is plenty of light on you. You cannot engage the audience members if they cannot see you.

In corporate meeting rooms across Japan, common practice is to turn off all or most of the lights for presentations. It is also very common for the presenter to sit next to or behind a table and operate a computer while the audience stares at the screen and the “presenter” narrates the slides. This practice is so common that it is considered normal. It may be normal, but it is not effective. Audiences better understand the presenter’s message when they can both hear and see the presenter.

If you turn off the lights and present from the back of the room like this…

…your room will quickly begin to look like this.

How Do You Know When You Are Engaging?

When you truly engage someone in a presentation, you can awaken something inside them. Benjamin Zander, introduced in Chapter 8, is the master of awakening the possibilities in others. And awakening the possibilities in others—our students, colleagues, audiences, clients—is exactly what he urges us to do as well. After all, what is the role of a good leader if not to awaken the possibility of a group, organization, or even nation? What is the role of a good teacher if not to inspire and awaken the potential of each student? Is not the role of a good parent—among a million other things—to awaken the possibilities within each of their children? Obviously not every presentation is an opportunity to inspire in a big way, but we need to affect a change in people, and that involves engaging them and awakening them to new possibilities.

How do you know if you are awaking the possibility in each student or audience member, Ben asks. The answer? “Look at their eyes. If their eyes are shining, you know you’re doing it.” He goes on to say, “If the eyes are not shining you have to ask yourself a question: Who am I being that my players’ eyes are not shining?” This goes for our children, students, audience members, and so on. For me, that’s the greatest takeaway question: Who am I being when I am not seeing a connection in the eyes of others?

In Sum

  • Engagement involves tapping the audience members’ emotions.

  • Keep the lights on; the audience must always be able to see you.

  • Remove any barriers between you and the audience. Avoid podiums and lecterns, if possible.

  • Use a wireless mic and remote control for advancing slides so you can move around freely and naturally.

  • Be positive, upbeat, humorous, and develop rapport with the audience. You must believe in your content or you cannot sell it.

..................Content has been hidden....................

You can't read the all page of ebook, please click here login for view all page.