Any good presenter knows the importance of keeping the audience the focal point of the presentation. To be successful, a presenter has to understand not only his or her own subject, but what the audience already knows about it, what they are hoping to learn, and even possible misconceptions that might stand in the way of their understanding or reaching common ground. It isn’t enough to just keep the audience in mind as you gather your materials and decide on content. To really move and motivate an audience with a presentation, you’ll need to be aware of how the audience is responding to you in the moment.
Emotional intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s self empathetically and appropriately; and to be able to use emotional information to guide behavior. How then is emotional intelligence used to strengthen presentation skills?
Next time you get ready to present, think about how you and your audience are responding to each other and how you can make use of that information to enhance your performance and your results. Some guides to consider:
BUILD IN TIME TO READ YOUR AUDIENCE: This sounds easier than it is. Many presenters think mostly (if not exclusively) about their own performance during a presentation. They understandably want that presentation to go smoothly and without mishap, so are focused on remembering details of what they planned to say, as well as how to get from point to point without missing anything. Master presenters, however, know the test of a great presenter isn’t whether the delivery proceeded without hesitation or that everything you thought you might include was delivered. The emotionally intelligent presenter is aware of the audience’s reaction. Make it a point in every presentation to gauge audience reaction as often as you can. You can do this either by literally stopping occasionally and asking for feedback (“Does this make sense”? “Everyone agree?” ) or you can simply build in pauses that allow you to gauge reaction yourself.
YOUR AUDIENCE IS COMMUNICATING WITH YOU IF YOU LISTEN: Audience feedback is often subtle, which is why for many presenters, it’s easy to overlook. Many audiences won’t interrupt your presentation or offer you the kind of verbal feedback that lets you know how you’re being received. The emotionally intelligent presenter checks for non-verbal signs. Are they maintaining eye contact? Are expressions neutral? Interested? Is body language open? Or are they shifting constantly in their seats, avoiding eye contact and giving you other signs of disinterest or disagreement?
TALK BACK: The point of being aware of audience reaction is to react to it. If you sense you might be losing your audience, don’t ignore the signs. Stop and react. If you sense boredom or disinterest, don’t stick to your script. You might quicken your pace or even skip ahead to a different section of your presentation. (“Why don’t we move ahead to some action items.”) If you sense disagreement, you might react in turn by testing the resistance. “I can see there’s some skepticism. Anyone want to offer some reaction?” That will give you a clue as to whether the resistance or reaction is shared by others or an isolated problem you identified and can quickly address.
TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of getting audience feedback is to increase your chances of successful communication. Don’t take any negative feedback you get personally, even if you disagree with it or think it unfair. You might even end the presentation portion early in order to devote more time to the q and a section of the presentation, to make sure you’re addressing your audience’s concerns. (I can guarantee that no one will complain about not enough slides, handouts, or data once you’ve gotten through the basics of the presentation.) Keep your additional materials on hand in case someone asks a specific question the additional data can help you explain, but let the audience guide you in when and how much to use.
Emotional Intelligence is now identified as a crucial leadership skill. Remember that displaying it, proving your ability to connect with others right in front of them, will do far more in proving your leadership ability than all the slides, charts and graphs you could possibly display.