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Stripping for the Audience: Secrets of Great Presenters

published May 07, 2007

By Randy Siegel
( 24 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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Great speakers and presenters are not afraid to bare their souls to audiences. They strip away their masks and illusions, allowing audiences and prospects to see them for whom they are. Audiences walk away not only with increased knowledge but some insight into the presenter as a person.

Whether its goal is to sell, educate, or inform, every speech or presentation has a goal, and the key to reaching that goal is generating trust. In order to trust us, people must know us, like us, and believe we are credible.


It's no wonder so many of us are terrified of speaking in front of a group. Presenting speaks to our greatest insecurity: people may not accept us as we are.

Each person has a unique presentation style, and while some elements work well, others do not. Regardless of their skill level, I have found most presenters can increase their likeability, credibility, and authority by at least 25% by unlocking the "four-second window."

Most of us form an immediate impression within four seconds and then spend the next 30 minutes justifying that impression. Think back to a blind date, first interview, or social situation. Did you make snap judgments as to whether or not you were going to like people? Most of us do.

We do it to others, and others do it to us. Most audiences decide whether or not they like us before we utter our first words.

For some, dealing with this "four-second window" is a breeze. These rare men and women have naturally high "likeability factors," faces, smiles, or presences that people find instantly attractive. For most of us, however, this is not the case. We have to earn our positive ratings in incredibly short periods of time.

Five factors contribute to first impressions: gestures, stance, movement, dress and grooming, and eye contact. Of these, dress and grooming, stance, and eye contact are most important.

Experts abound on the subject of proper dress and grooming for presentations, yet the best advice I have found came from one of my seminar participants. She suggested looking into the mirror and noticing if anything stood out—and if it did, taking it off and changing it.

One man I coached loved loud ties. While his neckwear reflected his outgoing personality, it also distracted from his presentation. The audience focused on his ties rather than his face, missing much of what he had to say.

Like appearance, stance contributes to instant credibility, and for many women, stance is a challenge.

Most women are taught at a young age to assume a dancer's pose—feet close together with one toe pointed out at a 90-degree angle. While this stance may be feminine and pretty, it holds no authority.

Instead, I counsel both men and women to stand tall, feet shoulder-width apart and pointed outward, with their hands at their sides. While it is important to gesture naturally, hands should drop to the sides when not in use.

Stance is important in establishing credibility, so don't hide it. At no time should a speaker stand behind a podium, desk, table, or other obstacle. Great speakers allow their audiences to see all of them—physically as well as emotionally.

The eyes have been called the "windows of the soul." As such, they are two of our greatest weapons for winning audiences. When it comes to eye contact, great speakers use rifles instead of shotguns.

I coach executives to begin their presentations by standing in silence, finding a friendly face, establishing eye contact, taking a deep breath, and then beginning their talks. This simple tip helps speakers become grounded and start their presentations with authority.

Many presenters talk while moving their heads from person to person like sprinkler systems, or worse, they lose all connection with an audience by staring at one person, at the slide screen, or into space. I train presenters to pick one person and maintain steady eye contact with that person until they have delivered a complete thought. Intensive eye contact can be uncomfortable, yet it is also highly effective in generating trust.

Discomfort is a constant companion for great presenters because they know that no matter how good they think they are, they can always be better. Using appearance, stance, and eye contact, they generate instant credibility while constantly challenging themselves to share more of themselves with their audiences.

About the Author:

Operating out of Washington, DC, Atlanta, and Asheville, NC, Randy Siegel is a nationally recognized specialist in professional development, self-branding, communications training, and executive positioning for corporate professional development programs and for individual clients.

As "The Career Engineer," Randy Siegel helps organizations build dynamic leaders who make rain, close deals, motivate employees, and are more positive and productive at both work and home. He offers a proprietary process that facilitates self-discovery to clarify personal perspective, true purpose, and professional image. This engaging process transforms high-potential employees into highly motivated and effective leaders who are committed to their organizations and careers. Additionally, it helps presidents and CEOs become more charismatic leaders, spokespeople, and ambassadors for the organizations they serve.

Siegel's integration of psychology and sociology with fundamental marketing precepts helps career-oriented men and women become "high voltage communicators™" by forging stronger relationships with key constituents. You can purchase his book, High Voltage Communications: Electrify Your Career and Transform Your Life, through Amazon.com, and you can subscribe to his complimentary monthly e-newsletter at buildyourleaders.com.

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