When you talk to other people, whether it’s a presentation, a job interview, or a police interrogation, your attention has only three places to go.

1)  You.  Your hair; your shoes; your alibi.

(Good):  Some attention needs to go inward. If you’re giving a presentation, that’s a physical act, so you need to notice, from time to time, what you’re doing with your voice and your body.

Some presenters, for example, never move; others never stop moving. It’s easy to lose track of these things.

(Bad):  Too much attention on YOU makes you feel self-conscious. Sure, you’re concerned about your image. Who isn’t? The question is, how much?

2)  Your material.

(Good):  Your material demands attention. 

The other day, I watched a senior exec kick off an important meeting.  She only spoke for a few minutes, and probably figured she could wing it. 

Big mistake.  She ended up rambling, losing her audience, and also losing some credibility. 

All she really needed were a few things—a strong opening, a strong close, and a focused message—to make a big difference.

(Bad):  If you’re too focused on the material, you get buried in details—too many Power Point slides, too many bulleted lists, too much information. 

You forget how little people remember. 

3)  Your audience.

(Good):  The best presenters focus on the audience.  Suppose, for example, you’re speaking to a group of managers about how to coach employees.

“Think of someone,” you ask these managers, “who made a big difference in your life.  Could be anyone—a parent, teacher, friend.  What did he/she do?”

Then, you relate their answers to a few best practices, and you ask your audience to assess themselves against those practices. 

You’re still doing a lot of talking, but it feels conversational.  And your audience stays engaged for one simple reason:  it’s about them.

(Bad):  You’re overly concerned with your audience’s emotional state.  If someone looks bored and then—oh, no!—walks out, you feel distraught.

You’ve confused their reactions with your self-worth.  But they don’t need to love you.  Because it’s not about you.

Tip:  When it’s time to speak, check your appearance, check your talking points. 

But then, focus on your audience.

P.S. The best communicators practice. Check out these two upcoming Boston workshops:

(½ day workshop) The Power of Presence: Maximize Your Personal Impact, March 30 (1-4:30 pm)

(2 day workshop) Dynamic Speaking: Get Heard, Get Remembered & Get Results, May 4-5 (9-5 pm). Limited to 7 people.

P.P.S. Maybe you prefer a fast—and surprisingly entertaining—book:

YOU’VE GOT 8 SECONDS: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World, named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper. Available in print, kindle, audio.

“Both practical and funny, it’s a great read for anyone who wants to have more impact at work. Hellman has mastered the art of communication, and he lets you in on the secrets. Highly recommended.”
Tim Saeger, Executive Vice President and Chief R&D Officer, iRobot

Click here to get these fast tips.

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