If you’ve ever been in a pub that’s showing a football match on its TV, you’ll know that one thing is undeniable: screens are eye magnets.
You might not have gone there to watch the match. You might even hate football and find it an intrusion. But that makes no difference; your eyes are irresistibly drawn to the screen.
This creates two problems for presenters. The first is that your audience is likely to have its eyes fixed on the screen for much of the time. And as everyone knows, screens in themselves have something of a hypnotic effect.
The second is that it’s all too easy for the presenter to face the screen as well. You may have been in presentations yourself where the presenter addresses virtually his whole delivery to the wall.
This, of course, is the opposite of what you want. If you’re talking to the wall, you’re not making eye contact with your audience – which is one of the main ways of getting them to attend to you and not exclusively to the screen.
Of course, this sort of behaviour is understandable. Not only is it a natural instinct, it’s also reassuring for presenters, especially if they’re the least bit nervous (something which has been known occasionally with public speaking). And it can act as a prompt.
But although it’s understandable, instinctive and reassuring, it’s also inadvisable. As a presenter, you are effectively an actor on a stage, and most actors prefer to face the audience!
Take public speakers. In the old days, they used to memorise their speeches. (They might even, shock horror, have written them themselves.) In this day and age, that would be surprising; but they still want to engage with their audience as much as possible.
As a result, politicians from Obama to Brown use autocues. But they also prepare and rehearse what they’re going to say, as much as possible. That way, the autocue is just there to assist rather than acting as a crutch.
That’s the answer with presentations. First, remember who you’re talking to: the audience. So everything you can put in place to help you do so is a good idea. Rehearsing the presentation will not only make you more fluent, it will improve your confidence so you don’t need reassurances or prompts.
And don’t just stop at eye contact. Now you’re facing the right way, up the engagement factor by telling the occasional anecdote or joke, moving around the room, asking questions, using props.
In other words, interact with your audience as much as possible. Because, vital though the screen is, it’s only a tool to help you deliver your presentation. And the more you use other tools, the more professional and memorable your delivery will become.
If you’ve struggled with this in the past, make a big effort for your next presentation and you’ll probably find that it’s far more effective.
Because walls might have ears, but they have very short attention spans.
By David Vickery