Steps Toward Becoming an Influential Presenter
by Alberto Lorenzo, Assistant Director of Training
he room is full of people and you’re about to start speaking. You’re nervous because it means you must deliver content in a way that’s interesting, compelling, and most importantly, inspiring. You need to convince your audience that their small, individual contribution matters when it comes to bystander intervention in the context of intimate partner violence prevention. “Nobody has to do everything, but everyone has to do something.” And yet, it doesn’t matter how effective or well-researched the curriculum might be if you, as the messenger, can’t deliver it well. Time is limited and you can’t afford to waste this opportunity; you want people to feel inspired, connected, and empowered to walk away with the motivation, skills, and behaviors that are going to, significantly and dramatically, begin to change the culture around these issues.
But your stomach feels like you’re on a gravity-defying ride. And that’s because you are.
I feel you. I’ve been there too. And here’s my advice:
- Make a Good First Impression: You only have one opportunity and limited time to make a good first impression. The good news is that it’s super easy. Show up early and get your equipment and classroom set up so that when folks arrive you can readily interact with them, greet them, and engage in meaningful ways. The famous American writer and public speaker, Dale Carnegie, wrote extensively about personal connections and how they play a role in our ability to inspire and influence people to action (How to Win Friends & Influence People, 1936).
“Actions speak louder than words and a smile says I like you… I am glad to see you and I am glad you’re here.”
Body language is going to matter. Know your audience and know what is appropriate in the space. Make your participants feel welcome by engaging with them personally and individually as much as possible, time permitting. This will significantly affect the mood in the room and set you up for success before you utter a word from the curriculum. People won’t remember what you said as much as how you made them feel. But hopefully, they’ll remember what you said too.
- Make Yourself Likeable: LISTEN and CONNECT with your audience. Forget small talk and formalities where you ask someone how they are without waiting for an answer. If you ask someone “how’s it going?” then you should be prepared to listen to what they have to say. Ask follow-up questions, remember the stories they tell you, make notes if you have to. To be a good conversationalist all you need to do is listen, really. People will immediately like you even if they know nothing about you if you just listen to them. There is research on the strong relationship between listening and interpersonal influence. Listening tells the person speaking that you care. Actively listening to someone will also have an impact on others who witness you listening to others [:::sounds of brain exploding:::]. You’re welcome. But go further than just listening and take a risk: reference a funny story or joke live in the room that maybe you and some of the participants talked about during a break. Ask your audience for recommendations; after all, people love telling other people about great food, TV shows, movies, music, books, etc. These are all strategies to get you connected and pave your way towards effectiveness as an influential trainer, speaker, and facilitator.
- Practice & Be Open to Feedback: Even if you do all these things and you’re super extra (like me) and do the most when it comes to connecting, if you’re not well-practiced, you will waste your time. Like Mariah Carey’s triumphant performance in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 2018, you better be ready to deliver and deliver well. So, practice! Practice means you will engage with feedback from colleagues, friends, family, and in my case, even from my dogs; I do practice in front of them quite a bit. For real though, a helpful strategy that I often put into action when receiving feedback is the A-C-T strategy (Baldoni, 2015):
- Accept: This demonstrates that you are open to new ideas and willing to listen. Have a conversation about the feedback.
- Clarify: Ask for specific examples so that you understand what is being referenced. Request ideas for improvement and alternate strategies to address specific pieces discussed.
- Thank: Consider the individual who delivers feedback as the one who is taking time to help you. Sometimes someone from your audience may offer feedback. Before you write it off, check in with your co-trainer and team. Ultimately, you will make the choice of what’s appropriate to implement and what’s not, but you ought to approach all feedback as an opportunity to learn.
Take feedback with a grain of salt and don’t let it bog you down. Literally, it’s meant to do the opposite.
Work hard. Practice. And if you’re just starting your journey with public speaking, facilitating, or prevention education, don’t be discouraged. No one is born an exceptional speaker or trainer – it takes patience, practice, and hard work. You got this.
If you have favorite tips and tricks you’d like to share, please comment below and add to the conversation.