Eye Contact in Presentations

January 12, 2015

In this article we are looking at the importance of eye contact in public speaking. As Edwin Starr sang in his 1978 disco hit, it is all about “Eye to Eye Contact”.

Look a person in the eye and smile at them and they will smile back. It is part of our inbred human nature. I’m sure you have all seen the bumper stickers, smile and the whole world smiles with you. This basic human nature is a wonderful ally when you are presenting.

Another basic instinct is to avoid eye contact when you are telling someone a lie. These two traits emphasise the importance of eye contact when you are presenting.

Ideally, you should look each person in the eye for about 1 to 3 seconds, the time it takes to say a sentence or make a point. Moving randomly around the room to ensure everyone gains the benefit and feels that you are talking directly to them. With a large audience, where it is not possible to make personal eye contact, split the room into four or six areas and look to each area in turn. The effect will be that everyone in that area will think you are looking at him or her.

With a smaller audience, there will be some people who give better facial feedback to your eye contact than others. They will smile more and look like they are enjoying the presentation more. These are good people to look at when you first start the presentation. They will boost your confidence and calm your nerves but once you are get going and are into your stride be careful not to favour these people too much. They will get more out of your presentation but it will be to the detriment of the others.

I have heard some presentation trainers and coaches suggest that if you are too shy to look people in the eye, to look just above their heads or at the back of the room. It doesn’t work! People can tell you are not looking at them. They all start thinking “What is he (or she) looking at, what is so interesting on the back wall?”

When you are giving a sales presentation, a useful trick is to identify the decision makers in the audience beforehand and ensure you give them the majority of your eye contact.

When I used to run half-day seminars, I would always get a lower rating from the people I did not look at much. I know now, that you have to look at everyone, not just the people who are easy to look at or who return eye contact. Be careful to look at people round the edges of the room or people who are sitting in the corners at the front, areas that you will not naturally look towards.

You can use eye contact to control an audience and their reactions. If someone looks disinterested give them more eye contact, their interest should soon pick up. By ‘more eye contact’, I do not mean stare at them, but as your eyes move apparently randomly round the room, go back to that person more often than anyone else.

To avoid question time turning into a conversation between one or two people and yourself, ensure that you give the questioner only 25% of your eye contact and the rest of the audience 75%. If you do not want a follow up question from the same person, ensure you are not looking at the questioner when you come to the last part of your answer.

Your eyes can convey a lot about what you are not saying. Make sure the silent message is in tune with the words you are using.

Find out more about Effective Business Presentations on my web site http://www.businesspresentation.biz

All the Best


Presentation Endings

July 14, 2011

How do you wrap up a presentation?  For many people it ends up with a half mumbled, “… and that’s it, thanks. Has anyone got any questions.”  as the speaker tries to leave the stage as quickly as possible.

There are three different ways to end a presentation just as there are three different types of presentation. The types of presentation are to entertain, to inform or to influence. Every presentation must fall into one of these categories. These are not mutually exclusive types as it is well-known that to effectively inform people in a presentation it also has to be entertaining and to influence people you often have to inform them about the situation and the options available. However, every presentation must have a dominant purpose which is to inform, entertain, or influence.

Entertainment Presentations

For a presentation which is purely there to entertain your audience, e.g. an after dinner speech, the best way to end is to leave the audience on a high and tell them your name. Just like a stand up comedian would do. That way if they enjoyed the presentation they know who to ask for when they want to re-book you or buy your Christmas DVD.

Informative Presentations

Informative presentations are when you tell people all about something but leave it up to them to decide what and how they will use this new information. In this case the best ending is a summary of what you have been talking about. In this style of presentation it is quite likely that you will have a question & answer session at the end of the presentation. In this case you can summarise before the Q&A session, but I would always recommend re-stating the summary at the very end after the Q&A.

Influencing Presentations

This is the most common type of presentation used in business these days. The purpose of the presentation being to make your audience do something or think something differently from that which they would have done prior to the presentation.

In this case it is imperative to end with a “call to action” in other words, to tell them what you would like them to do or to think in the future. In many respects this call to action is the whole reason for the presentation and they should leave your presentation with the call to action ringing in their ears. For this to happen it must be the last thing you say before you sit down, after any thanks and Q&A.

As with the Informative presentations, you may want to issue a call to action at the end of your speech but before the Q&A session, but if you do, always re-iterate the call to action after the Q&A, so that it is the very last thing you say.


The right way to give presentations?

April 15, 2011

 Are you a lefty or a righty when it comes to giving a presentation?  Which side scores the most ticks for you?

How most people make a presentation How people make the most of a presentation
Worry about being nervous   Acknowledge the nerves and put them to one side  
Introduce yourself with your name and talk title   Grab attention – do something unexpected but in line with your talk  
Use colourful templates to add interest   Have a consistent design layout  
Use bullet points on their slide   Use visual aids which are visual and aid understanding  
Use small a font to include all the detail   Use big fonts to make big statements  
Ramble – or structure it so people know exactly what you are going to say next   Structure your presentation so audience can see where you have come from but not where you are going, maintain some suspense  
Talk about themselves and their achievements   Talk about their audience’s wants and needs  
Use clip art and unrelated images   Use pictures that create strong mental images  
Read the slides   Lead the presentation, with slides as an aid  
Use a monotone voice   Be emotional, give a performance  
Talk at their audience   Talk with their audience  
Forget to summarize   Summarize the 3 key points  
Give copies of slides as handouts before   Give detailed handouts after  
Stop talking when you have run out of things to say   Finish with a call to action before your audience stop listening  

If you scored more lefts than rights the right thing to do is to come on a presentation skills course.

If you scored more rights, well done, keep up the good work and keep spreading good presentation practise.

Reading Age and Hearing Age

February 1, 2010

In his blog Graham Jones recently examined the need to write your business blog as if you were writing for children. To make your blog or website easy to understand you should aim to write for a reading age of 7. This blog has a reading age of 13 to 14, so I still have some way to go to make it better.

But more importantly it made me think about the “hearing age” of presentations. That is, applying the same measurement style as used for “reading age” to the words that you say when giving a presentation.

When giving a talk you should try to make it as easy as possible for people to follow what you are saying.  Because if they have to concentrate too hard, for too long most people will just stop listening. Then all your lovingly prepared presentation is going to waste.

You don’t want to talk down to people, just make it easy for them to listen.

To lower the “hearing age” of your presentation you should talk in short sentences, avoid using long , multi-syllable words when short plain words will do. Avoid unnecessary jargon and technical terms.

Some of the worst presentations I have sat through have been full of what I refer to as “brochure talk”. They are full of corporate statements such as ” Our core competency is the provision of integrated solutions which cause a paradigm shift through the rigorous performance management of your human resources capability”.

What that actually means in plain english is anyone’s guess.

I remember one person who came on one of my courses. When it came to the practical he started talking using a pre-written script. It sounded very formal and staid. Then half way through he stopped using the script and just started talking about his personal experiences. The second part of his presentation was far livelier, far more interesting and I’m sure it had a far lower reading age than his original script.

Your speed of delivery has a similar effect. Talk too quickly and they will stop listening. You should talk slightly slower than you would in a normal one to one conversation. This allows people to hear what you have said, take it in and then listen to the next bit.

So it is not just your business blog that should be written for children, it is your business presentations as well.

Dire State of Presentation Skills

December 1, 2009

In 2009 Young Markets has been running a survey on the way people give presentations. Given all the publicity and material available on the internet about how to give an Effective presentation,  the message doesn’t appear to be getting through.

An astounding 73% of people rely on their slides to remind them what to say next with 83% revealing a whole side of bullet points at one time.

The vast majority of people are still using their slides as handouts, either before or after their talk.

With presentations techniques such as these being so common it is no wonder that the vast majority of audiences suffer from “death by PowerPoint” and that presentations are boring people to death.

If you are one of the majority of people who rely on your bullet point slides during a presentation, you are probably thinking what is so wrong with that. After all, it is what most people do. I’ll let you in to a secret; that is exactly what I used to do as well. But now I have seen the error of my ways, I now realise how boring it makes it for your audience.

I am not one of the anti-PowerPoint brigade or even anti-Prezi  who believes you should give a presentation without any slides. I believe that slides add value to a presentation and can help to make a presentation memorable and motivational, but only if they are used in the right way.

So what is so bad about relying on your slides to remind you of the key points, what is so bad about having a number of bullet points on the screen and what is so bad about using copies of your slides as handouts?

Essentially, it all boils down to one thing. Using slides in this way will let your audience get ahead of you. The slides will tell them what you are going to talk about next.  And as everyone knows there is no point listening to someone when you already know what they are about to say.

Speaker notes, visual aids and handouts are three completely separate things with completely different objectives. Your speaker notes are to remind you what to say. Your visual aids should be designed to accompany your words and create strong mental images for people to remember.  And your  handouts need to be stand alone documents  that cover not just the slides but what you said as well. By planning to use the slides as speaker notes you tell the audience what you are about to say. By using the slides as handouts you tend to overfill the slides so they still make complete sense even without your words. Both of these things will ruin a presentation.

Most of the time, the bullet points on a slide make excellent speaker notes, so use them as that and think up new visuals for the slides that you will share with your audience. The write down your talk and put it along side the slides in a PDF document which you can have as a handout, to give to people after your presentation.

If you are confronted with a pre-written corporate presentation that you have to use, which has lots of bullet points in it, then my advice is to use bullet point reveal facilities of the presentation software to display the bullets one at a time, and then talk about each topic and bring the bullet point up after you have talked about it. This has the affect of reinforcing what you have just said, rather than pre-announcing it and making your words superfluous.

Just because the majority of other people do it, doesn’t make it right. Stop, relying on your slides, stop displaying bullet point text and stop giving copies of your slides as handouts. Your audiences will thank you for it.

To find out more about how to structure and give an Effective Business Presentation visit my presentation training website  or book a place on one of my presentation courses.

How to answer questions in a presentation

November 27, 2009

Today’s twip is:

#prestip: Paraphrase a question to ensure you have understood it and give yourself time to think. http://digg.com/u173rk

Yesterday the tip was about how to ask questions, today it is the turn of how to answer them.

When you are asked a question from the floor, always wait until the questioner has finished speaking, don’t be tempted to interrupt just because you think you know what the question is going to be.

Give the questioner some respect by waiting until he/she has finished, then paraphrase the question back to the person who asked it. This serves three purposes. First of all it makes sure you have understood the question properly, secondly it ensures everyone else in the audience has heard the question and finally it gives you some time to think of a good answer.

Normally, when you answer a quesion, 25% of your eye contact should be to the questioner and 75% around the rest of the audience. When you have finished answering the question look at the questioner to ensure he/she is happy with your answer, unless of course you think this is likely to create an opportunity for them to ask another unwanted question. In this case, you should ensure you are not looking at the questioner when you come to the end of your answer, and then just carry on with the presentation.

In general, it is a good idea to think of the three worst questions you could be asked and work out three good answers as part of your presentation development. Doing so will help boost your confidence and with any luck they will never be asked.

For more hints and tips on effective business presentations please visit my presentation training web site.

All the best

Graham Young

I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand.

November 23, 2009

Today’s presentation twip on Twitter, from me was:

Confucius said “I hear I forget, I see I remember, I do I understand” get your audience doing something.

Let me elaborate on this quick twip.


If all you do in a presentation is stand and talk at a group of people, the will hear what you say but then most of them will quickly forget it.  If you don’t believe my, think about all the presentations you have heard, how many do you actually remember everything that was said?  How many do you remember some of what was said? And how many have you completely forgotten?

I’m willing to bet that the majority are in the last category.


Now, why do people use powerpoint when the give a presentation?  Okay, there are all the wrong reasons for using PowerPoint, like to remind the speaker what to say, because everyone else does, because that’s what they always do etc etc.,  but the good reason for using visual aids is that, if used properly, the will help the audience to remember what is is you have been talking about.

Tests have shown that people remember more when they see it as well as hear it.


However, if you really want people to understand what you are talking about you have to make them do it. You have to get them mentally if not physically involved in the process.

It is like driving to a new location. The first time you go somewhere you probably need to get the map out to find out where it is and how to get there, but having driven it once you can then go back there without having to refer to the map.

Now if you were just a passenger on the first trip to the location, and then you have to drive yourself the next time, you probably will not remember exactly where it is and how to get there and have to resort back to the map or satnav. That is because as a passenger you just heard and saw things, but you didn’t do it and as such you don’t understand exactly where you went.

So to make a presentation work you can’t just talk at you audience, you need to make them think. Ask them questions, make them list things down on paper, get them to put their hands up, compare feelings with the person next to them or get them to imagine a particular scenario.

This last suggestion is why storytelling is such a powerful presentation technique. By telling a story your audience can associate with, it takes them to a different environment or situation in their head. The more realistic you make the story the easier it is to suck your audience in to that story. So use as many of their senses as you can in relating the story, what they would see, what it feels like, what it tastes like or smells like.

Don’t let your audience be passengers in your presentations, make them particpants.

To discover more successful presentation strategies, visit my presentation web site or come on my presentation training course.

7 Questions to ask when creating a presentation

October 22, 2009

One of the hardest aspects of developing a new presentation is deciding where to start. To help you I have 7 questions that you should ask yourself, or the others around you, which will help to define and structure your presentation.

These questions come from a summary of the answers I received from a question posed on LinkedIn, and I would like to thank everyone who responded to my question “What three questions do you ask yourself when you create a presentation?”

Let us start with an assumption that you know roughly what the presentation will be about. The questions to ask, starting with probably the most important question of all are:

1.  Who is my audience and what do they care about?

The more you know about you audience the better. How many of them will there be? What do they know about this topic already? How receptive to your ideas will they be? What are the demographics and psychographics of the audience likely to be?

The number one question that the audience members will be asking themselves is: WITFM? (What’s In It For Me?). After you have created the presentation, go through each and every part of it and ask “Why is this bit important to my audience?” If you don’t have a clear answer, then change the presentation.


2.  What is the goal of the presentation and how will I measure the success in meeting that goal?.

Your goal should be relatively short term, so that when you measure how well you achieved it, you can still remember how the presentation went. Think about the goal in terms of “What do you want your audience to do as a result of the presentation?” “What would everyone do in an ideal world?”. The more quantitative these actions are the better.

A secondary question, once you have established your objective is “What call to action shall I use at the end of the presentation to reinforce this objective and encourage people to meet my goals?”  The last thing you should say before you sit down is your call to action, which tells people how to meet your objective.


3.  What pain does this presentation cure and how do I express or get the audience to feel that pain in the opening?

A well established principle of the solution selling approach is that without pain, there is no change. If people are completely happy with the way things are they will never feel the need to change. In order to create a need for change you have to expose the need, which is mostly commonly done by exposing the pain. As business presentations are invariably promoting some form of change you need to establish a case for change early on in the presentation.

Highlighting only the pains can leave a sour taste in the mouth, so ensure you also paint the vision of success, i.e. what it will be like once that pain has gone away.


4.  What would potential objections be to my message and how do I overcome such objections?

If there are likely to be any potential objections then you are far better tackling them head on rather than trying to skirt round them. Thinking of the three worst questions you could be asked and formulating a response to those questions will boost your confidence and give your presentation a more rounded feel.


5.  How can I make my messages memorable?

All too often presentations are listened to and then quickly forgotten. You need to think about how you can make it memorable. Think about where your passion lies in this topic, devise ways to make your audience think about the subject. After all the more people do the more they understand.

Your visual aids can also help to get your message fixed in their memory. Use creative imagery that creates a strong mental image, rather than the ubiquitous text bullets.


6.  How much time to they have to spend with me?

There is nothing worse than running out of time or running overtime. Establish up front how much time you have for the presentation and then ensure you take 10% less.


7.  How will I grab their attention at the start?

There is little point in giving a presentation if your audience are not listening. Right at the start you need to grab their attention and make them think about the subject to hand. The reaction you are looking for is a “Wow! I thought this would be good but this is going to be great! I really need to give it my full attention!”


Answer these 7 questions and your presentation should be practically complete.

Thanks to everyone who contributed by answering my questions on LinkedIn. You can see the original questions and answers here


And here.



Finally, if answering all 7 questions seems a bit too much for you then there is another approach to presentation development promoted by David Eastman,of  Chicago which I think deserves a mention. It is:

  1. What’s up?
  2. So what?
  3. Now what?

 As David says “Those are the three subliminal questions most participants have when attending any presentation. I structure every presentation around those three questions so the participants understand my main points (and the problems or situations to which they apply), why those points are important, and then how to apply the information they just received.”


All the very best with your future presentations.


If you need a helping hand, drop me an email. If you would like to add another question to ask when creating a presentation please add it as a comment below.

Who needs presentation training?

October 8, 2009

Why would anyone want or need to go on a course about how to stand and talk. After all, we can all stand up and talk already, can’t we?

We don’t need training on how to talk. And as for what to say, how can a trainer who has little or no experience of your company and your job know what to say better than you do?

Anyway, training courses are an expensive luxury, which we can’t afford in the current economic climate. Anyone who needs to learn how to give a business presentation can just watch how other people in the company do it.

We don’t need presentation training!


But there again if you just keep doing what you have always done, nothing will change, your success rate will at best remain the same and in these difficult times when competition for business is ever harder you are more likely to lose ground to your competitors.


Let’s approach this from a different angle. How many presentations have you sat through?  

Probably hundreds ?


How many of them do you remember?

Probably less then 10% ?

 And that includes all the ones that were memorable for all the wrong reasons. The ones that went wrong. The really boring ones. The ones where the presenter made a fool of him or her self.


How many really good, inspiring presentations do you remember?

Less than a handful?

That is not a very good percentage success rate, is it?


How effective are the presentations in your company?

Do you want your next presentation to be instantly forgotten, or remembered for all the wrong reasons?



Then maybe you could benefit by going on a presentation skills training course. And so could many of your colleagues. Brush up your skills, eradicate the bad habits and make your talks more effective.


What are you likely to learn on a Young Markets presentation skills course?

We start by understanding what you would like to improve, which particular aspects of your presentations you would like to be different in the future and what types and styles of presentation you are likely to give.

Then we discuss the 5 most important aspects of giving a presentation, for which we have an acronym OSRAM, which stands for Objective, Speaker, Room, Audience, Message.

Most of the morning is then spent investigating the traits of a good speaker, including:

  • How to overcome any nervous anxiety and use it to your advantage
  • How to remember the key elements and structure of your presentation
  • Why it ain’t what you say that is important, but how you say it.

In the afternoon, we turn our attention to your message, including:

  • The structure for the ideal presentation
  • How to influence everyone in the room and motivate them into taking action
  • How to make your presentation memorable, for all the right reasons

You will discover how to handle questions and awkward audience members, as well as what your visual aids should and shouldn’t contain and a myriad of other hints and tips.

We’ll highlight a few bad habits people can pick up that are presentation killers. Things like relying on your slides to remind you of what to talk about, having too many bullet points and filtering out the emotion in an effort to hide the nerves.

During the day, everyone delivers two short presentations and is given a video of their performance.

By the end of our 1 day course you will be more confident and much better prepared to deliver influential presentations that will be remembered and acted upon by your future audiences.

After all there is more to giving an effective business presentation that just standing up and talking. See details of our upcoming courses here.

How to win Michelin Stars for your Presentation

August 11, 2009

Think about your favourite restaurant, why do you keep going back? After all there are hundreds of different eating places with in easy reach all of which serve meat and vegetables.  So what makes you favourite the best?  Is it the raw materials, they way they are combined, the way they are cooked or is it nothing to do with the food, may be it is the ambience of the establishment, the décor, the level of service you receive, or there again it could just be the price but I think that is unlikely?

In all likelihood it is a combination of things which make it your favourite; it is unlikely just to be the raw materials the chef uses, although this obviously has a role to play.

The same applies to presentations, it is not just the bare facts conveyed that make a presentation interesting and enjoyable. The basis of the presentation is important. You want to use the best ingredients for your presentation, but the effectiveness of a presentation has a lot to do with the way the information is delivered. When you are giving a presentation you need to behave like the staff of your favourite restaurant.

To start with, when you are planning the menu as the chef, you want to offer some variety which will make it appeal to a wide range of different people.  There will be members of your audience who are looking for a light lunch who just need an overview and those who are ready to tuck in and want the real meat of the subject.

When you are cooking your presentation add some spice and seasoning, plain food never won a Michelin star. Think how you can weave some stories around your subject, introduce some light hearted humour and make the contents of your presentation look interesting as well as tasting delicious.

When you are delivering your presentation, you need to be in the role of the amiable waiter. Start by looking like you are enjoying what you do, remember to smile. Nobody likes being served by a dour waiter. You want to be friendly but not over familiar, your role is to serve not to be part of the group who are dining. The customer is always right, so don’t talk down to the audience or start an argument with them.

For a business presentation the presenter should always be dressed as smartly if not more smartly then their audience. You don’t find many good restaurants where the waiters have dress down Fridays.

One of the first tasks a waiter always undertakes is to ask his clients what they would like to eat, and how they would like their steak cooked. The same hold true for presentations, if you don’t already know what your audience would like to hear and how they like their information presented, then ask them. Make the presentation interactive.

Remember that you audience are your customers and that you are there to serve them, to give them what they asked for not what you want to serve. Nobody would return to a restaurant that just shoved what the chef had cooked in front of the diners and expected them to eat it.

Finally, give the audience the time to enjoy the presentation, don’t rush them but be attentive and look out for any signals that you are taking too long. Talking too quickly makes it hard for your audience to keep up with you and some may switch off and stop listening. On the other hand you always want to make sure that you have stopped talking before your audience have stopped listening.

To make people come back for more remember to serve them well.

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