3 Secrets to Keep Your Audiences Happy (That They Won't Tell You!)

Before you make your next presentation, avoid three of the biggest missteps that disappoint audiences.

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By Bridgett McGowen

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After compiling your content and practicing for hours upon hours, it would appear you are all set and ready to deliver your presentation. But there are a few fine points that, if left unattended, can lead to major missteps that you subconsciously repeat presentation after presentation. And to compound matters, your audience members will never bring this to your attention. Instead, if you commit any one of the offenses — regardless of how incredible your content may be — some audience members may quietly excuse themselves from your presentation, leaving you wondering what went wrong. Others — either those who are not at liberty to exit your presentation or those who truly want to hear your message and hope they can overlook the blunders — will suffer in silence. Neither is a winning reality.

Your voice is part of the presentation

Just as your attire or your slide deck is an extension of your presentation and can impact the impression people have of you and your overall performance, the same goes for your voice. It is part of the presentation package as well. A voice that drones on or that has no inflections can make for your listeners a painful experience. And, unfortunately, the richness and robust nature of your content may not be enough to move listeners past a voice that sounds disinterested or from a speaker who sounds disconnected from the audience.

To work to have a more animated voice, read a children's book aloud, ensuring you embody the characters and the storyline. This is best done in the company of a child who can fully appreciate your efforts; however, reading it aloud to yourself will do the trick as well. Make your voice increase in speed and go higher in pitch if you read an exciting passage. Make it slow down and lower it an octave or two for scary or sad parts. Put space between words, punctuating the significance of each one when you want to place emphasize on a key message.

Don't have time for that?

Smile. Smile while you speak. Those pearly whites instantly add personality to your voice and your overall countenance and confidence. The degree to which you speak with inflections is driven by your mood, and your facial expressions dictate your mood. A flat face with no expression leads to...you guessed it...a flat voice. Conversely, the energy from a smile will come through in your words, and your audience will thank you for it.

Related: 7 Powerful Public Speaking Tips From One of the Most-Watched ...

Refrain from reading

Whether you speak with inflections and are animated or not, an audience truly prefers it if you do not read to them. Sure. There are those direct quotes that, if paraphrased, would not have the same effect. Definitely read those to your audience. However, resist the temptation to read your slides to your audience. First, the audience can silently read your slide faster than you can read it aloud to everyone. Second, a deck should contain no full sentences and should have no more than five to seven bullets per slide with up to seven words per bullet. Finally, try this strategy so you don't have to concern yourself with any of that: create slides that are each filled with a high-resolution, eye-catching image or graphic and just a few words, if any words at all. The words or, better yet, the image itself with no words on the slide serves as a trigger, reminding you of what you plan to discuss. For instance, if you plan to discuss the ups and downs of the stock market, consider an image of a seesaw, then go into your spiel. It makes for a more memorable experience for your listeners.

Related: 5 Tips for a Winning Presentation

If it's broken, don't mention it

Well...you can (and should!) mention it; just don't keep mentioning it.

One of my friends and colleagues shared with me how all she could remember from a presentation she recently attended was how the speaker constantly spoke of her inability to get the technology to work. Over and over again, she drew attention to what wasn't properly functioning and how annoyed she was while waiting to figure out the technology. While the topic was interesting, all my friend could remember was the bungles.

Your audience will remember what gets your attention.

When you have a tech fail and if it fits with your personality, add some levity to the moment; tell a joke about an issue you've had with your smart phone or your work computer or make light of the situation. I recall a colleague who, at the start of a faculty development workshop, he would tell professors, "Because this is a technology session, something will go wrong, and when it does, I want you to clap." And being the good students they were, and because technology likes to meet expectations, the professors would clap and laugh right on cue when there was a tech hiccup!

Consider coming prepared with a story to tell that connects with your presentation topic and that fills the time as the tech gets fixed. One of my fellow speaker friends did this, and the audience thought it was an official part of his presentation!

However, if you have factored in a dramatic element that is most effectively created only if your technology is fully operable, then purposefully stall with a one-minute conversation, e.g., instruct your audience to have a one-minute conversation with a neighbor about what they've learned thus far and a question they still want answered. Naturally, the conversations can go for longer than a minute. Take note of the questions and immediately answer them or save the answers for later. It buys you time while the tech gets up and running.

Finally, and most importantly, know your content well enough to keep moving without the tech. And remember this point always: there will never be anything that any piece of technology can bring to your presentation that's more dynamic, more interesting or more engaging than you.

Related: 10 Body Language Tips Every Speaker Must Know (Infographic)

Bridgett McGowen

Award-Winning International Professional Speaker

Bridgett McGowen is an award-winning international professional speaker, former Forbes Coaches Council contributor and founder of BMcTALKS Press. She has authored multiple books, including the award-winning "REAL TALK: What Other Experts Won't Tell You About How to Make Presentations That Sizzle."

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