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How Different Audiences Improve Presentation Skills
by Chris King

As presenters, we can fall into ruts and become complacent about our speaking techniques - especially if we are speaking often and to similar types of audiences who appreciate our presentations.

I feel that my speaking and presenting effectiveness jumped to a whole new skill level when I started to work with diverse audiences in different situations and with different material. In this article I will share some of the different types of audiences and presentations that have helped me grow as a presenter. I realize that they will not be the same for you, but I hope they will start you thinking about ways you can grow in power as a presenter.

What have I learned as a presenter from becoming a group fitness instructor? "What are you suggesting, Chris?" you ask. "I don't have the inclination to teach aerobics at all!" I realize that, however, I want to share the experience and what I have learned from working with people of all ages, fitness levels, and interests and in a different arena. These lessons can be applied to all presentations.

  • Your audience members must know that you sincerely care about them. My students know that I am focused on them, their progress and how they are doing. I truly care about them. I want them to be safe, to be challenged and to come back again. There are other fitness instructors who are so focused on watching themselves in the mirror and worrying about the impression they are making that the students in the class lose interest and motivation. I am always available to answer questions and listen to them after class. As presenters, we must care about our audience members more than about ourselves and have the true goal of serving them.
  • Be prepared, prepared, and prepared. I know that I have harped on this forever, but I really discovered the importance of preparation and practice when starting to teach a fitness class. You are dealing with a whole new challenge. There is the music, people who are not in time with the music (you must be, however), people doing something completely different from what you are, people arriving late and people leaving early. Without over-preparation, you can easily lose your stride and focus and also lose the attention and motivation of those in the class (or in your audience).
  • Plan and use the power of transitions. When we know where we are going with a topic or presentation, we often speed along expecting our audience to keep up. By teaching a fast moving fitness class, I learned to let class members know ahead of time what was coming next. I don't just jump into the upcoming move, I say something like, "On the count of eight, we will …" That way, everyone is with me and not frustrated - they don't miss a beat. During a presentation it is important to give audience members a way to jump to the next topic, by segueing or pausing, showing a visual, asking a question, etc. That way, they don't miss a beat or the important point you are trying to make.
  • Know how to use a microphone properly. When I teach my large fitness classes (35 or more people), I use a headset style of microphone. With the music blaring (louder - but not too loud - music helps with motivation) it is important to have a working mike that sounds good and doesn't keep needing a new battery. I have learned how to adjust the position of the microphone, the loudness of it and my voice and use of batteries for maximum delivery. All of this knowledge has helped me when presenting to any group. I am no longer michrophone-phobic.
  • Even if you have an audience of one or two, present with the same energy as when you are presenting to a crowd. Besides teaching large classes at a large health club, I also teach fitness classes at a small, exclusive club, where sometimes only one or two people show up. It doesn't matter. I still act pleased to see them, and sometimes make the comment, "Well, today we have the quality, not the quantity." I want them to know that I care and I always work as hard for one person as I do for 30. So, if only a handful of people show up for a presentation or workshop, act like it is a crowd.

What have I learned as a presenter, by performing as a storyteller? As a professional storyteller, I perform for families, adults and children of all ages. Now, you are probably asking, "Why would I ever want to present to children?" As a presenter, you know the value of being able to tell a captivating story, but you may not realize the value of telling stories to children. Children are much more honest than adults. An adult might not be pleased with your presentation, but probably won't say anything. Children, on the other hand, will let you know immediately, either by saying something or acting up instead of paying attention. They are not an easy crowd to please, and I tell stories to all ages starting with three-year-olds. This is what I've learned from this venue.

  • Interaction with audience members will keep our presentations lively and have participants who are listening and paying attention. With the younger children, I learned immediately the value of involving them the repetition of a phrase, word or action. Then, when telling stories to families, I noticed how involved the parents were becoming and how they were obviously enjoying the involvement. As a presenter, think of ways you might be able to involve the audience in a fun way. Remember that adults are grownup kids at heart. I have used rhyming lines, call and response and physical stretching, mild exercising and jumping.
  • Don't be afraid to act a little foolish, outrageous and out of your comfort zone. It might not always work, but when I try crazy things with children (for example, putting on a rubber pig's nose and oinking), we all have a blast and it develops rapport. When a presenter plays the fool on purpose, the audience usually loves it, and laughter helps form a bond of rapport - just like it does with the children. We all love to do stunts a bit off the beaten path - it just takes some courage the first time.
  • Get feedback from the eyes and facial expressions of your listeners. Never, never as a presenter follow the suggestion to look over the heads of your audience members. We can tell how we are doing and how well we are reaching our listeners by looking at their faces and into their eyes. Granted, you may see some faces that are perpetually grumpy or bored looking, but if you see that a large number of eyes are glassing over, it is probably time to shift gears and start on a new track. When I have told a story that didn't elicit much positive feedback, I know it is time to pull a different type of story out of my hat or off the top of my head. That is why it is important to over-prepare. Always have lots of extra material ready as a substitution for what isn't working.

Here's my challenge to you. What different type of audience can you find to present to? What different type of material can you prepare and present? By trying both and getting out of our comfort zone, we learn and grow more than we can ever imagine. And, in turn, the power of our presentations and speaking skills will grow and grow!

Let me know how you do. I love your FEEDBACK!

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