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.

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