How to listen when you are making a presentation

Here is the most common type of presentation people make: A person spends 5 minutes introducing the speaker – telling the audience how great the speaker is, how many degrees he has, how long he has been married, how many kids he has and the names of all his house pets. The speaker then comes on and splashes a bunch of bullet points on the screen and reads them off verbatim for 50 minutes and then he asks: “Are there any questions?”.

Well – that’s one way of doing it.

Here is a better way:

Skip the long introduction. Why? Because the audience doesn’t care. The audience is here to hear about the ideas the speaker is going to tell them. The speaker should start with this line: “Good morning…my name is John Smith…I am here to tell you about this GREAT idea I have to make your life better. If you have any questions during my talk, please feel free to interrupt me any time. I will answer your question unless you are jumping ahead of my which case I will let you know.”

A presentation is a conversation with the audience.

When was the last time you had a conversation with a friend or business associate when you got to talk non stop for 50 minutes before your friend could chime in? You must learn to “listen” while presenting and the best way to do that is to have the audience ask questions DURING your presentation. This is the best way to develop rapport and dialog with your audience. In reality, very few people in the audience will actually ask questions during your 50-minute talk. But the fact that you offer that opportunity to the audience makes them feel at ease, valued, wanted and appreciated.

Also learn to “listen” with your eyes. When you see someone in the audience who has this puzzled look on his face, you know you have lost connection with him and you need to reconnect with him and the rest of the crowd. You do that by asking the audience “Does this make any sense to you?” This will give you a chance to elaborate on your idea and get your point across. If you see someone passed out in a deep coma, you will know your 10 bullet points per slide has done its trick!

Remember this: A 50-minute monolog from anyone is deadly – especially if you use bullet points.

So the idea of “we will have a Q and A at the end of the session” is sheer utter nonsense. It is like you walking up to your friend and say “I want you to shut up for the next 50 minutes and listen to me”. What do you think your friend would say to you?


2 responses to “How to listen when you are making a presentation

    • Fred,

      Thank you for the link. It offers many good suggestions. Priming the pump is very important. Once the first question is asked and answered, the rest of the audience will be much more likely to ask more questions. Another point you make is also very true. Don’t be afraid to tell the audience you don’t have the answer to a question and there is no shame in asking if anyone in the audience has the answer. It shows that we are human. I often tell the audience at the outset that “there is no such thing as a stupid question, only stupid answers.” That puts the audience at ease. THis is particularly true if you are dealing with a technical subject and the audience consists of people of varying levels of experience in that area. The new comers will always feel intimidated.


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