We are used to instant gratification. We click a button and an article appears, we ask our phone a question and immediately get a response, and we can order an item and expect it to arrive the next day. We don’t live in a world where we patiently wait. Therefore, it’s difficult in presentations when people use phrases that tell an audience what they won’t be getting right now.
For example, people will use phrases such as:
I’ll go over that more later…
I won’t go into the technical details right now…
We don’t have a lot of time so I won’t go over the specifics…
I’ll explain that more in a few slides…
I’ll describe that in a bit…
These phrases are meant to help alleviate questions about more details, but what they really do is distract your audience from what you’re currently explaining. They start to think about what you aren’t sharing right now and it ends up disrupting the narrative. The audience won’t know that you aren’t sharing all the details unless you tell them.
So if an audience is listening to you — right now — you want to provide them with the information at that exact moment. If you aren’t going to talk about something for a while, just wait until you get to the point to bring it up. Don’t alert the audience to what they aren’t getting. Instead, just share the information you want and then you can go into more details when you get to that section. This way, your narrative keeps flowing and people can follow your message as you reveal it.
There are many types of people in a group. Some people are more talkative or extroverted and some are quieter or more introverted. In these situations, it’s easy for the talkative people to dominate the conversation. However, even though quieter people aren’t pulling as much focus, they are still paying attention. Yet, it can often be tough for introverts to establish themselves in a group when they aren’t sharing their voice as much.
That’s why I’ve put together a few phrases that quieter folks can use to remind people that even though they aren’t as talkative, they are still actively engaged in the conversation.
Phrases to use:
“I’ve been listening to everyone’s initial thoughts about this and I believe…”
“What you said made me think about __________. So I’ve been strategizing the best way to approach this…”
“When you brought up _______ a little while ago, I started brainstorming about options…”
What all of these phrases have in common is that they start by letting people know what’s happening while you’re not speaking. They’re reminding people that even though you are not talking, you are still playing an active role. That reminder is important because many people get silent when they are tuning out. Therefore, teammates might mistakenly assume that if you’re quiet, you’re not actively involved. These phrases stop that false premise and correct the narrative.
Then, during future meetings, people won’t assume you have checked out if you’re quiet. Instead, they’ll know that you’re analyzing the situation, and will be more likely to check in with you. Letting people know what’s happening behind the scenes is a great way to stop incorrect assumptions and take control again. That way, even when you aren’t talking out loud, people know that you are still actively part of the conversation.
Every presentation is a conversation. Even though the audience isn’t speaking, they are still responding to the speaker’s content. There is a back-and-forth between the two parties. However, the more a talk sounds like a “presentation”, the easier it becomes for the audience to tune out. There is a subconscious distancing that can occur which makes it more difficult for the speaker to effectively communicate their message. That’s why I advise avoiding sentences that bring attention to the presentation such as:
1. In this presentation I’ll be talking about…
You wouldn’t start talking to a colleague by opening with, “In this conversation I’ll be sharing…” so I wouldn’t open a talk by saying, “In this presentation I’ll be talking about…”. Instead, just share the information without that formal set up. Think of how you’d start talking about this topic in a conversation and open that way instead.
2. I’ll go into that more in a few slides…
When people use this phrase, it minimizes the importance of the slide you’re actively sharing. The audience starts to think about what slides will be shown in the future, when that information will come up, and what that info will be. The audience’s attention jumps into the future and they might miss the details you’re currently talking about. If you share the information as you get to it, the audience is always paying attention to what is currently in front of them.
3. This slide shows you…
In conversations, images are used to reinforce ideas. They are helpful because pictures add context and specificity to a story. However, you wouldn’t share a photo and say, “This photo shows you…”. Instead, you’d share a bit of background and then show the image to add in more depth to your point. By eliminating that phrase, the slide becomes helpful for adding in details instead of something you are having to explain to the audience.
Great speakers want their audience to feel that their participation is necessary and appreciated. Therefore, if you wouldn’t use the phrase in a conversation, I wouldn’t use it in a presentation either. This way, your speech is approachable and your audience can feel more actively involved and connected to your content.
Back to back virtual meetings can be draining, so it makes sense to allow colleagues to keep their cameras off during certain events. Plus, everyone has a lot going on right now and it helps to give people the option of participating without worrying about kids running around in the background or WiFi bandwidth issues.
However, as a speaker it can be very difficult to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to a presentation when you don’t have anyone to talk to or interact with. It’s disconcerting to “check-in” with your audience and only see black boxes staring back at you.
Thankfully, there is one situation we are all comfortable with where you never see the person you are talking to, but it doesn’t throw you off — a phone call.
When you call someone, in order to visualize that person effectively, it's good to ask where that person is so you can picture them in that location and then deliver your story. Even though you never see their face, you can still feel energized because you can imagine their reactions in your head.
That’s why I recommend deciding two things if you're the only one on camera during a presentation:
Then, pretend you’re on a phone call during your presentation. Imagine the person reacting to your story and notice how your presentation changes. This way, you can keep the energy of your original talk without needing to see people looking back at you.
One of the biggest anxieties presenters have is how to handle the Q & A session after a talk. With so many variables at play, it’s completely understandable that people worry about preparing for every scenario. That’s why I’ve put together these tips to help you feel confident before your next presentation.
Scenario 1: You’ve never thought about that idea before.
Part of what makes presentations so wonderful is that it’s an opportunity for others to hear your ideas and share theirs. You’re not expected to have thought of every single possibility beforehand. That’s why you go to an event, to hear ideas from people with different backgrounds.
If someone brings up something new you could say:
“That isn’t something I’ve thought about before, but I’ll be sure to give it some consideration now that you’ve brought it to my attention.”
People appreciate when you take the time to listen to their ideas, even if you don’t have an immediate answer.
Scenario 2: You have no clue what the answer is.
If you don’t know what the answer is, instead of worrying — just tell them the truth.
You could say, “That’s a great question but not my area of expertise, so I don’t feel I can answer that right now.”
It’s important to remember that you’re human and you aren’t expected to have all the answers. As long as you don’t collapse and react negatively, the audience member will appreciate that you listened to their comment.
Scenario 3: You should know the answer, but can’t think of it.
If someone asks a basic question, and you freeze, let the audience know.
For example you could say, “That’s something I should know the answer to, but to be honest, at this moment it isn’t coming to me. I’m sure I’ll think of it right after this is over.”
People understand the stress that comes with presenting. Everyone has had a moment where they blank out. Just let people know what’s happening, and then you can move on to the next question.
Remember not to self-destruct when answering questions. You are human and you’re not expected to prepare for every possibility. Respond like you would if a friend asked you this question. If something surprises you, remember to breathe, state the facts, and then focus on continuing the conversation. That way, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it won’t matter. You can move on and still make a great impression.
Ways to Reset Before a Presentation
There’s a lot going on in today’s world. Sometimes anxiety and stress can be difficult to shake off. It’s even tougher when you’re feeling overwhelmed and then have to get up in front of a group and give a presentation. That’s why I find it helpful to have “reset” routines at the ready.
Here are three that have helped me in the past:
1. Watch something that makes you laugh
If you’re feeling stressed or burned out, laughter is an excellent way to reset. Laughing releases chemicals in your body to help you relax and recalibrate. I personally love watching funny interviews on the Graham Norton Show or bloopers from the tv show Parks and Rec. If there’s a show or video that makes you smile and lighten up, watch it before your next presentation. That way, you can start your next speech from a positive place.
2. Do something physical
When you’re stressed out, it can be challenging to stop your thoughts from going into a negative spiral. That’s why I recommend doing something physical so you shift your focus from your mind to your body. You can exercise, dance to fun music, sing your favorite song, or even just take a walk and feel the ground beneath your feet. If you bring your attention to your body, it gives you something else to focus on and think about.
3. Help someone else
When life feels overwhelming, I focus on helping someone else. Helping others shifts my attention from my worries into doing something productive. As a presenter, you’re sharing information that is important for others to hear. It may make someone else’s life easier or they might learn something new. If you realize your talk could be valuable for someone else, it can help you reset and refocus.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, laugh, do something physical, or think about how your presentation could be helping someone else. Having things that shift your focus and reset can be incredibly powerful.
And then, to be honest, there will be days that are just hard. On those days, all you need to do is realize that you’re doing your best. We are all doing our best. And as long as you’re doing that — it is enough.
3 Easy Virtual Ice Breakers
When people attend a virtual meeting, people log on at different moments. During that time, it can be awkward for people to sit in silence and wait for everyone to arrive. If you are facilitating a meeting where you want people to participate and speak up, this type of atmosphere is difficult to overcome. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to make the virtual environment more engaging and dynamic.
1. Have music playing when people log on.
When people log on to one of my workshops, I often having music playing for everyone to hear. This accomplishes a few things. First, it gives people something to talk about and connect over when they first enter the meeting. Second, if people’s cameras are off, the meeting still feels like it has energy and momentum. Finally, if you’re playing fun music, I’ve seen people start to move to the beat or sing along, which instantly adds in a bit of fun at the start of a meeting. If people are enjoying themselves and in a good headspace before a meeting, it’s much easier to collaborate and work together.
2. Have people use a themed virtual background.
If you want to add in some creativity to a meeting, ask people to download a virtual background with a specific theme. Especially if your team is working from home, this adds some appreciated visual variety to people’s screens. You could have people put up a background of
— Ideal travel backgrounds
Japan, Barcelona, Disneyland, etc
— Favorite tv show backgrounds
Simpsons couch, the Friend’s coffeehouse, Parks and Rec office, etc
— Picture of people’s favorite hobby
Yoga studio, garden, kitchen, etc
Not only is it fun for people to think about what background they could use before the meeting, it also allows your team to bond and share a bit about themselves in an easy and engaging way.
3. Have people share an “uninteresting fact” about themselves.
Many people dread ice-breakers because they have to think of something interesting to say. That’s why one of my favorite ice-breakers is to ask people to introduce themselves and reveal an “uninteresting fact” about themselves. It can be anything from “My front door has red trim” to “My cat is sitting next to me” to “I had cereal this morning for breakfast.” By saying an uninteresting fact, people instantly start to open up without the added pressure of having to come up with something profound to share.
The point of an ice-breaker is to help people open up around each other. So whether you’re playing music, having people show up with fun backgrounds, or sharing a bit of easy information about themselves, think about ways to help your group relax and connect.
Meetings are a great place to present your ideas and get feedback from others. However, as people share their thoughts, it’s easy for the discussion to get sidetracked. Before you know it, people are actively talking about an unrelated topic and you are faced with the task of figuring out how to get the meeting back on track. This is often hard for people to do since you don’t want to “stop” people from talking, but you also have a finite amount of time to share your ideas and get through your agenda.
As people are faced with this situation, it’s common to respond by saying:
We have a lot of other things to discuss so…
Since we don’t have a lot of time, we also need to talk about…
Let’s get back on track here…
People often use these phrases, but they aren’t necessarily the best to rely on. For example, if you’re in a senior position talking to someone junior, it could sound like you’re cutting someone off, thereby discouraging them from sharing in the future. Or if you’re in a junior position, it might be difficult to tell your boss that you need to “get back on topic”. Therefore, you want to say something that connects to the discussion while also redirecting people’s attention to your original agenda.
That’s why I suggest using theses phrases instead:
And along that line of thinking…
As you said that, it occurred to me…
And following up on that…
By using these alternative expressions, you maintain the momentum of the conversation since you aren’t cutting anyone off or telling them they need to do something different. Instead, you are relating to the current conversation and actively pivoting back to your primary plan. It’s a simple yet effective way of keeping the conversation flowing as you smoothly get your meeting back on track.
Avoiding Vocal Fatigue
Your voice is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s especially important since most people are conducting their meetings virtually where they can’t rely as heavily on using body language to communicate. That’s why having a clear and strong voice is critical. However, when you’re in back to back meetings it’s easy for your voice to get tired. Therefore, here are three ways to help you avoid vocal fatigue:
1. Warm up your voice beforehand
People know how important it is to warm up their body before doing a physical activity, but they don’t often think about warming up their voice before speaking. That’s why I spend at least a few minutes before I teach my workshops warming up my voice. I like to blow through my lips, spend some time humming in different pitches, and I move around a bit so I am breathing deeply and fully. That way I know my voice will be ready to use when I speak up in a meeting.
2. Sit up tall
If you’re attending multiple meetings, it’s easy for your body to melt into a “schlump” where your shoulders are crouched over and your head is tilted back. This collapsed position is very hard on your voice because you’re collapsing your voice box and inhibiting your breathing. Therefore, I recommend either coming to the edge of your seat and sitting up tall, or standing as you present, if you are going to be talking for a while. That way your physical stance will keep you supported.
3. Avoid clearing your throat
Many people “clear” their throats before speaking. However, that actually makes things worse. It can aggravate your throat and, overtime, cause more vocal issues down the road. Instead, I recommend humming and then swallowing. This process still clears away any mucus you have built up, but it doesn’t aggravate your throat when you do it.
By warming up, keeping a tall and supported stance, and avoiding clearing your throat, you can help avoid vocal fatigue.
If you listen to a lot of presentations, you’ll notice speakers often use similar phrases during their talks. Then other people hear those expressions and repeat them in their own talks. While some of these phrases are useful, here are a few phrases I’d suggest phasing out of your future presentations:
1. "To give you a little bit of background…"
When people use this phrase, it subtly sends out the message, “This might not be exciting but I have to cover this information.” However, background information is often incredibly important and you want people to actively listen to it. Instead, I’d begin by jumping straight into the information.
2. "For those of you who don’t know…"
This phrase can often sound patronizing and creates distance between the speaker and the audience. If you’re worried that some people in the audience don’t know this information, I’d use the phrase, “In our field it’s important to….” That way if someone does know this information they will think, “Yes, that’s true” and if they don’t know it they will think, “Oh, that’s useful.” This way you keep everyone engaged the whole time.
3. "I won’t go through all of this but…"
This phrase is normally used when people have too much information on a slide. It instantly tells the audience to stop looking at the details on the slide because they might get overwhelmed. Instead I’d say, “I’d like to point out how…” That way instead of highlighting how complex the slide is, you’re helping something important stand out.
By avoiding these phrases, you can easily elevate your presentations and effectively share your message with others.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.