Networking is critical in today’s world. However, in a networking environment, many people don't know how to start a conversation. I've written out a number of options to help you get the ball rolling.
Cold openers are often the most intimidating. My advice is to keep it simple. Some effective openers are:
— Hello, I'm _________.
— Hello, I'm _________ and I'm here for _________. What brought you here today?
— Hello, I don’t know many people here, so I thought I’d introduce myself.
When you are at an event, it gives you a unique opportunity to connect over the specifics that brought you two together. Try commenting on the event itself by asking:
— How’d you hear about this event?
— Did you hear _________ speak? What did you think?
— What a beautiful venue, have you been here before?
Think about commenting on the environment you are in. Look around you, what do you see? Bringing up your environment can help you identify an easy way to open up a conversation. For example, you can ask:
— Have you tried the mashed potato bar (or any of the food at the event)?
— I’m going to go and get a drink, care to join me?
— It’s packed in here, mind if I join you over here where it’s quieter?
Breaking into a group is easier than you think. Look for groups where the conversation seems relaxed. These are the ones that it is easy to step into. When you do come up you can ask:
— May I join you?
— Did you all come together, or did you meet here?
— You seem to be having a good time, mind if I join you?
Keep these phrases in mind when you are at your next networking event. You never know what connection you could make.
The Olympics are incredibly inspiring. The best of the best from around the world come to compete for the ultimate prize. You watch people who have trained for years, reach deep down and give this moment everything they have.
Presenters can learn a lot from these amazing athletes.
— Take care of your most important tool
Athletes know that their body is their most powerful tool. When they have a competition coming up, they understand the importance of getting enough sleep, eating right, and treating their body with respect. For some reason, many presenters tend to forget this. If you want to be at the top of your game, you have to make sure you are preparing for it inside and out.
— Everyone has an off day
Even the best athletes have an off day. How you handle that disappointment will determine how quickly you can bounce back. You can either let it continue to discourage you, or you can take it as a learning opportunity and decide to get inspired by it.
— It takes a lot of work to craft a great performance
Olympic athletes work very hard to reach this point. They have taken the time to practice every single component of their performance, numerous times. You don’t want to walk up to the front of the room knowing you could have done more to prepare.
— Have a plan but be ready to adapt
Athletes enter a competition with a clear plan in mind. They know which jumps, spins and tricks they want to do. However, they have to be relaxed enough to deal with unexpected circumstances. This is important for a presenter to remember. Being able to stay calm and confident while you think on your feet is a valuable tool for any presenter.
— Enjoy the moment
Many Olympians have spoken about how important it is to take in this special moment. You only have so much control over the outcome of the event, but you do have control over how much you allow yourself to enjoy the opportunity. When you are presenting at an event, make sure you give yourself time to appreciate being there. You get to share your thoughts, opinions and hard work with an audience. Enjoy it.
No matter how hard we try, there will always be instances when we have limited time to practice a presentation. In this situation, it’s critical that you don’t panic or scold yourself for failing to carve out enough time beforehand. Instead, focus on the following game plans:
1st Level: No time to prepare
If you haven't rehearsed your speech, try to stay relaxed. Walk up to the front of the room, breathe and smile. Introduce yourself (if someone hasn’t introduced you). Then, look at your first slide, say the point of the slide, and then go into the details. When you click to the next slide, pause, breathe, and then say the point of the slide and then explain the details. The pattern of 1) Point of slide and 2) Details is very effective if you want to stay on track and look confident as you present.
2nd Level: A few hours of time to prepare
If you only have a little time to prepare, the first thing you should do is practice your introduction. It’s the first time people hear you and it is your premium opportunity to establish a solid connection with your audience. The second thing to do is figure out your transition sentences. When does one idea end and another begin? Plan out each transition and practice it out loud. Last, practice your conclusion. An audience won’t know you haven’t practiced very much if your introduction, transitions, and conclusion are smooth.
3rd Level: At least one day to prepare
When you have a high-stakes project that you are presenting, it is critical to leave time to prepare. For these presentations, in addition to the introduction and conclusion, I suggest knowing the first and last sentence of every slide. This will drastically help the flow of your speech sound professional. If you can look at any slide and know how it begins and ends, you are ready to present.
For more communication tips or to book a workshop, please visit www.activatetocaptivate.com.
One of the hardest tasks when putting together a presentation is figuring out what to edit. At the start, all the information seems necessary. However, an audience can only take in so much. If you overwhelm people with too much information, they start to tune out. Therefore, in order to keep your audience’s attention, it is critical to know how to distill your message.
To help you edit, here are three questions to ask yourself:
1. What do I want the audience to remember?
Too many tangents are hard to follow. Many presenters want to impress their audience and stuff too much information into their presentation. In one sentence, answer the question, “What do I want my audience to remember?” Knowing this statement will help you clarify your message and delete unnecessary information.
2. Will the presentation make sense without this information?
Whenever I am working with a client on a presentation, I always ask them, “Do you need that?” This question helps people distill their message, as well as edit the images on their slides. Remember, wanting to talk about everything and needing to, are two different things. If a piece of information is critical for your overall message, then keep it. If it’s not, get rid of it.
3. Can I remember this without my slides?
Once you’ve done your first round of editing, go through the presentation and see if you can remember the content without looking at your slides. If there is a section that is too hard to recall, this is a good indication that you have included too much information. Because, if you have a hard time remembering your presentation, then your audience will too. Go back through and see if you can make additional changes to distill your message even more.
When you are crafting a compelling presentation, editing is critical.
Great presenters are aware that there are many variables in a presentation. While you can control the content and the delivery of a presentation, many other factors play a role in a presentation's success. Here are five things to think about to help you avoid disaster in your next presentation:
1. Investigate Your Fears
You are your best critic and chances are you know where you are underprepared. Are you worried your presentation will be too long? It probably is. Are you worried you might forget information for a certain slide? You probably will. Are you worried you use too much technical jargon in your presentation? You probably do. Trust your gut. Figure out what you are uneasy about and take extra time to address these potential problems.
2. Prepare Without Technology
Technology has a tendency to fail at the worst time. That’s why great presenters use PowerPoints to enhance their presentations, but they don’t need them. They know the information so well that if something does go wrong, they can still tell their story effectively without any aids. Make sure you know the information well enough that you could give your presentation with or without visual help.
3. Brainstorm Questions
The audience’s reaction to your presentation also depends on how you answer questions. Are there questions you hope the audience doesn't ask? Assume those questions will come up and practice your answers out loud.
4. Take Improvisation Classes
A great presenter can think on their feet. If you are worried about being able to handle the unexpected, try taking some improvisation classes. I’ve seen firsthand how practicing improvisation can help people grow and learn to trust their instincts.
5. Practice Things Going Wrong
The best way to avoid disaster, is to practice dealing with it. In a rehearsal, have a friend reorder your slides without telling you. Or, you could have a friend ask you a hard question in the middle of your speech. Bring in someone to help you explore how you handle numerous situations.
When it comes to avoiding disaster, you have to think outside the box. Great presenters can overcome many obstacles. Give yourself the opportunity to experience dealing with the unexpected.
As a presentation coach, one of the questions I get asked the most is, “What do I do with my hands?”
While there are plenty of power poses and effective body language techniques I could explain, my first response is a little different. If you are worried about your hands, it means you are worried about YOU. How you look, how you are being perceived, how you are portraying the information. A presentation is not about you. It is about the audience. It is about trying to do something to the audience. If you are worried about yourself, it means you’ve shifted the focus inward. You need to redirect that attention out again.
Figure out what you are trying to do with your information. Why you are saying it? Do you want to excite your audience? Do you want to rattle them? What effect do you want this content to have?
While there are specific motions and poses people can do to help maximize the effectiveness of a point, you can’t start there. Presentations can become too choreographed and staged. I want to listen to the genuine you. That can only happen if you start by thinking about the audience first. After you connect with them, you can work on making small moments stand out.
Interviewing for any position is nerve-wracking. You are entering an environment where your abilities are evaluated, analyzed and scrutinized. However, it is important to not let that pressure affect you. Here are some ways to overcome the stress of an interview and showcase your confidence:
When you don’t breathe normally, your nervous system kicks in because your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. This causes your heart to beat faster which can make you feel nervous. That is why proper breathing is so critical. Before you enter the interview room, take long deep breaths. Stay as calm as possible. Continue this awareness in the interview room. When you are asked a question, don’t hold your breath as you listen. Breathe the whole time. If you notice you are running out of breath when answering questions, slow down. Proper breathing is the first step to staying calm and looking confident in an interview.
You don’t have to speak to communicate. Body language is often much louder than words and body tension is often read as insecurity. Before you enter the room, stretch your shoulders, neck and back. When you enter the room, imagine you are taller and wider than you are. During the interview, don’t collapse down into a small ball. Stay relaxed and open. When you leave the room, stand tall, smile and look them in the eye as you thank them. Let your body tell the interviewer that you are ready and excited about this opportunity.
Many people enter “defending mode” in an interview. They feel they have to justify their history, experiences and goals. You don’t have to defend anything. You need to own it. You are there to give your qualifications a voice. If you get an interview, they are already interested in knowing more about you. You’ve done everything you can to prepare. Now enjoy the chance to share your thoughts with a potential colleague. This is the time to bring your ideas and passion to life.
When you breathe normally, have open and relaxed body language and own your ideas, you can show the interviewer how confident and excited you are about this opportunity.
It’s common knowledge that the best way to nail a presentation is to practice. However, there will be times when circumstances prevent this. Here are three ways you can still impress your audience even if you don’t have time to prepare:
Messy transitions show the audience that you haven’t prepared. Even if you don’t have much preparation time, think about how you are going to transition between slides. I suggest writing down the first and last sentence for each slide. That way, even though you haven’t rehearsed the content, it still gives the illusion that you have. You can rest easy knowing that even if you get a bit off-track, you have a way to bring it back and transition flawlessly to the next idea.
When people don’t have time to practice, they try to cover it up by speaking very quickly and charging through their entire presentation. Instead, utilize the power of the pause. Breathe between slides. Give yourself a “reset” button. Pausing allows the audience’s ears to perk up and take extra note that you’ve said something important. Pausing also shows confidence. It tells the audience that you feel in control of the situation. Utilizing the pause allows you to work the room, even when you feel unprepared.
When people haven’t practiced, they spend most of their energy trying to remember what they want to cover. Instead, think about your presentation in a different way — as an opportunity to teach the audience about your idea. When you teach, the order naturally comes out in the most efficient way. Highlight the important parts. When you teach, you create a connection with the audience because you are focused on them, rather than on yourself.
Even without preparation, focusing on the transitions, pausing and teaching the audience about your ideas will create a powerful and successful presentation.
A lot of things go into making a presentation memorable. The slides have to be designed well, the content has to be engaging and the presenter has to seem confident in front of a crowd.
However, there is one main ingredient that many people overlook when putting together a captivating presentation — their personality.
I see it all the time. As a presentation coach I work with people from marketing to engineering to humanities. No matter their backgrounds, people want to seem professional. This is important, but that goal can often be taken too far. People will still take you seriously and see you as a professional if you bring your personality to a presentation. Personality adds flavor, it grabs the audience’s attention. It makes your speech more authentic, and therefore, more engaging.
If you and a colleague are given the same topic, the same script and same slides — there should be a noticeable difference in your presentation.
If you are having a hard time bringing your personality into a presentation, here are things to keep in mind:
Giving a speech can be nerve-wracking and many people physically tense up during a presentation. Try to relax. Breathe before you start. The audience can’t get a sense of you if you are too tense.
2. Add in Vocal Variety
In real life, when you are talking to people, your vocal tone naturally shifts. For example, when you really want to stress something, your pitch changes and you pause for effect. You might switch up the pace of your speech to add in momentum. However, many people lose this variety during speeches. Let your voice sound like it does in real life. Don’t fall into the “professional monotone” trap.
3. Have Fun
When you are having fun, your real personality comes out. Smile before you begin. Show the audience you want to be in front of them. Enjoy sharing your story with the audience. If you look like you are having fun, the audience will want to join you on your journey.
Remember, if you aren't memorable — your ideas won't be either. Let your personality shine throughout your presentation so your audience can feel connected to you and your ideas.
The best presentations are the ones where you feel the presenter is talking directly to you. Where ideas flow naturally and it feels like an easy discussion. However, many presenters have a hard time making their speeches sound like this. It’s probably because they don’t think about their presentations as conversations. Instead, they think of them as formal events where they talk, uninterrupted, in front of a large crowd. Normal interactions don’t happen under these conditions. Therefore, you must find a way to change things around so you can practice your presentation as a conversation.
Practice in an a different environment. Practice giving the full speech on your couch talking to your best friend. Practice in a coffee shop. Practice while you are taking a long walk with a coworker. When you practice, don’t just go through the “talking points” but fully explain each idea, as if you were giving your presentation. Figure out where your voice goes into “automatic” and you stop sounding genuine. Or have your friend point out when it no longer sounds like you are speaking to them, but at them. By changing up the environment, you will start to notice when your tone, pitch and delivery sound out of context. Then practice giving the talk, in that natural way, in the actual space where you will be presenting. Try to bring the “genuine” and conversational tone into the formal environment.
When you are having a conversation, you are normally telling a story. You are relying on your voice to paint a picture. In presentations, people rely on their slides to tell the story and explain the concept. Instead, practice telling your story without any visuals available. Notice what changes when you have to use your words to make the ideas come to life. Or, try using a whiteboard to draw the visuals as you tell them. By changing up the visuals you usually rely on, you will find more natural ways to convey the information.
In a conversation, people can interrupt you to clarify a point, ask a question or offer thoughts. In a presentation, the speaker is the only one talking and there is no give and take. It is just one voice that continues to speak for an extended period of time. To make the presentation more conversational, practice having a friend ask a question before each slide. Then, answer their question with the information on that slide. You can even put that question in the “presenter notes” section of your talk. That way, you continue to give the information in your talk as if you are having a dialogue with the audience.
Switch up your environment, change up your visuals and practice answering questions to make your presentations more conversational. That way the audience will feel more connected to you and your content.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.