Want to ensure people understand what you’re communicating?
Worried about presenting especially virtually?
Want to know what you learned in nursery/kindergarten that would help your presentation skills?
How to Improve Presentation Skills
Whether virtual or face-to-face presentations, the secret is exactly what every 5-year-old learns in kindergarten or nursery school. Remember Show and Tell? You show something – an object – and tell people about it. I brought my older brother into class once as my ‘object’ and told my teacher and classmates about him. Others brought pets, souvenirs from holidays, a favourite toy.
We showed something and talked about it. The children were engaged, asked questions, fun and enjoyment ensued often. We’ve lost this as adults, especially in a business or organizational context.
How often do you go online or into a boardroom and someone shows you a 20-page PowerPoint presentation full of words, graphs, charts, data? I went to one recently on empathy and it started with the definition of empathy – a great start honestly – except the presenter talked from the moment the slide appeared to the time they clicked to the next. What do I focus on? Reading the text? Listening to the speech? Overload!
Words are words whether they are on paper or verbal. Humans can’t process simultaneous auditory (verbal/spoken) and visual presentation. I’ll repeat that – sharing both written and spoken information at the same time overloads the listener, it’s too much info to take in at the same time. Many people think that if they show the words and say them, it positively reinforces the message.
It’s the opposite.
The Rationale for Good Presentations Skills
Research shows the seeing visual text and listening to audio text at the same time – words on a screen while the presenter is talking – “increases the cognitive load, rather than lessening it.” (Citing the Kalyuga Study, one research example).
Talking and showing text at the same time is called the Redundancy Effect. It overburdens the brain’s working memory by having to focus on two things rather than just one so has a negative impact on understanding.
It’s suggested by researchers including John Sweller and Kimberly Leslie that it would be better for people to close their eyes to the visual stimuli and just focus on listening to the audio in terms of learning or comprehension. Imagine though closing your eyes in a meeting or presentation, people would accuse you of sleeping or failing to pay attention.
They contend that it would be easier for students to learn the differences between herbivores and carnivores by closing their eyes and only listening to the teacher. But students who close their eyes during a lecture are likely to called out for “failing to pay attention.”
Tips for Effective Online Communication
There are many simple tips to effective online communication or virtual presentation skills:
• Use a relevant picture or visual rather than text if you’re going to speak over it, a picture helps people visualize your message, so it complements your words.
• Limit the amount of information on each slide. It’s not about the number of slides in your presentation, it’s about the amount of information on each slide.
• Use a variety of tools to keep people engaged not just PowerPoint. Use polls, music, the chat, breakout rooms, storytelling, and ask questions to involve others.
• Encourage people to stand up or move around, not just sit glued to the screen.
• Tell people to manage their volume especially if you speak loudly. The audience can forget they control the volume of the speaker and can complain after the fact.
• Be energetic and animated as you want to convey passion through the size of a screen.
• Fluctuate your volume, tone and pace of speaking as that helps people stay engaged, monotony can be dull.
• A leader’s presentation should tell a story with an opening, the detail and a conclusion.
Leadership Lessons for Good Presentations
As a presenter the onus is on you to communicate well, it’s not on the audience or recipients to create the understanding.
• Learn what you do well in terms of presenting and where you can improve. Leadership requires reflection and growth mindset to innovate and improve. This holds true for your presentation and communication too.
• Leaders provide vision and context for information – ensure you communicate the bigger purpose or strategic link for your material.
• Ask a thought-provoking question that has the audience reflect, potentially with regards to action you want them to take based on the presentation topic or about the impact of the presentation on their responsibilities.
What impact do your presentations or general communication have on the audience?
What could you do differently to ensure your message is understood?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to help yourself improve your communication to motivate and influence others better.
Photo by Ono Kosuki from Pexels