Some years ago I attended a training course with The TeamWorks to improve my presentation skills and the way I communicate. The two trainers—William Anderson and Katy Miller—gave me three useful tips on how to improve my communication skills that I’d like to share with you. I found them useful because they made me realise some aspects of my presentation style I wasn’t aware of.
William and Katy pointed out to me that even though I had no problem making eye contact with my audience, I had a tendency to let my eyes fly around the room too quickly. Therefore, I wasn't talking to my audience—I was talking at my audience, or over their heads. And to avoid this, the advice they gave me was to look at every person of an audience (if there are many people, every area of an audience) for at least two or three seconds. Think it's easy? Think twice. Looking at someone for two to three seconds—without taking your eyes off—takes practice. But it's an effective way to improve your eye contact.
I had a tendency of moving too much when speaking in public. And I thought it was a good thing. I thought that moving around while presenting was always useful. But they taught me that movement is important when it adds to your story. If it doesn't help your audience better understand your message, there's no need to move too much. For example, if you're talking about the financial results of your business in two different countries, you might move a little to the right when you're talking about one country and then to the left when you're talking about the other country. In this case, the movement helps your listeners follow you and allows them to better understand what you’re saying.
Silence is one of the most powerful tools in communication. Dale Carnegie talks about it in The Art of Public Speaking—he uses a beautiful sentence when he says that a pause is silence made deliberately eloquent. When we speak in public we focus on speaking, right? We’ve been asked to speak, so we do. However, William and Katy reminded me that the appropriate use of silence and pauses can be even more powerful than what you have to say because it increases the impact of your message. When you have an important message to communicate, say it, and then instead of moving on to the next message, pause for a second or two.
A pause after an important idea gives the idea itself time to enter the mind of the listener. A precautionary note: this technique only works if an idea is already important per se. Emphasizing a trivial message with a pause makes both the message and the communicator foolish.
If you'd like to learn more about how to make better presentations, download my report Top 7 Mistakes People Make When Creating Business Presentations.