I surprised a client with my answer to the recent question, “What are the top three things you recommend to become a better presenter?” They were expecting tactical advice; instead I advised three mindsets: awareness, intentionality, receptiveness. My top three pieces of communication advice are:
- Be aware of your audience and adapt to their needs
- Intentionally use both verbal and nonverbal techniques
- Be receptive to feedback and incorporate it as you proceed
These three pieces of advice work not only for presenting, but for all communication. I am privileged to work with really smart people who know their business well and strive continuously to learn and improve. So, while specific tactics—such as speaking from your diaphragm and making your hand gestures meaningful—are helpful, it is the underlying mindset shift that is most life-changing for professionals. Because we have been talking since we were two or three years old and our schooling focusing on learning subjects, we tend to communicate in automatic mode. We focus more on the content we want to communicate and less on the relationship effects of our communication.
Ironically, what audiences respond best to is the meeting of their relationship needs. People are much more likely to remember how you made them feel than what you specifically said. And they are much more likely to remember what you said if they feel acknowledged and that you gave them what they needed in that moment. That is where the three mindsets are magical.
Paying close attention to your audience and letting them know they are seen is the mindset of awareness. You can learn what the audience knows about your topic and what motivates them through surveys in advance or questions upfront. You can read the room (or virtual room) to gage the audience mood and the state of attentiveness. This awareness gives you the data you need for the next mindset of intentionality.
You get to choose your communication techniques. Will you use colloquial or formal language? Speak standing up or sitting down? Be quiet or loud? Take up a lot of space with your body and hand motions or be more subdued? Speak in great technical depth or cover just benefits? These intentional choices about your communication can be made to best suit your audience with the information garnered through the awareness mindset.
When we speak, we are constantly getting nonverbal feedback from our audience. More so in person with body language, but even virtually we see facial expressions and hear tone of voice. Paying attention to that feedback is very helpful in adapting to the audience needs at the moment. We can also request verbal feedback by asking questions. More complex questions give us more valuable feedback. If we ask, “Do you understand?” the yes/no answer is somewhat helpful, but not valuable enough for us to know where to direct the interaction next. A complex question, such as, “What still needs more explanation?” will allow us to better respond to the audience needs. With the receptiveness mindset we can adjust the flow of the communication to adapt real-time to the audience.
Scenario: Prospect Presentation
Let’s consider a real-life scenario to compare not using and using the mindsets of awareness, intentionality, and receptiveness. In this scenario you are sharing information about your business to a prospect company during a first-time meeting with three people you have never met.
Take 1: Good Speaker Without Three Mindsets
You prepare slides and talking points for each slide and rehearse prior to the meeting. You research the company in advance and incorporate their logo and mission statement into your presentation, connecting their mission to what you have to offer. You present with confidence using a clear, loud voice and hand motions that add meaning to what you are saying. You do not read the slides and at the end you ask if anyone has any questions. Good job!
Take 2: Three-Mindset Speaker
You prepare your slides after you have sent an email to the main contact at the prospect company asking them what they would like to achieve in the meeting. You incorporate information you researched about the company and the information you received from the main contact into the presentation. You rehearse the flow and key ideas for each slide in advance. Entering the location of the meeting you read the room and notice everyone is wearing t-shirts and jeans, so you take off your jacket and sit next to one of the three people at the table. At the start of the meeting right after introductions, you ask a complex question, such as: “What have you learned about this category of companies in our space that made you consider working with us?” Based on this information, you start to share your presentation moving quickly through slides you deem would not be of interest to these folks and spending more time on slides you think are most relevant. About 30 minutes into the meeting, one of the people checks their phones and then gives a slide glance to the other people in the room. You notice and acknowledge by saying, “I understood that we had 45 minutes today, but if something urgent has come up I am happy to go right to your questions and wrap up sooner.” Two of the three people immediately jump in and tell you what they really want to know. You end up spending the rest of the time in a detailed discussion addressing their needs, while the third person excuses themselves. Excellent job!
The magic of the three mindsets is that no matter what happens, you are ready for it. You have shifted your purpose of communicating from getting information across to meeting the needs of the audience and now use your skills of awareness, intentionality, and receptiveness to ensure the best possible outcome.