Here's how untrained people usually approach a presentation. They gather information and organize their thoughts. They use the information and thoughts to make a great set of visuals with charts, tables, bullet points, and amusing or meaningful images. Then they stand in front of the audience and put the visuals up one after another, using them as prompts for what they want to say, which often involves reading them aloud.
This can be a successful technique, in that it leaves a roomful of witnesses that you have given the presentation. Word will usually get back to your boss that you did what was asked of you. Can anyone ask for more than that?
A presentation is a stage performance, and a stage performance consists of a performer and the props the performer uses to support the performance. If you treat your visuals as the center of attention, they become the performer and leave you with the role of prop.
If you need to do more than show your boss you gave a presentation… If, in other words, you need to persuade an audience, make a sale, advance your career, deliver troublesome or difficult information, or rally a team… then, you need to exchange roles with your visuals. Make yourself the performer and your visuals the props.
There is a specific technique for interacting with visuals that puts you in charge of them and keeps you at the center of the audience’s attention. At Communispond, we call it “Think-Turn-Talk,” and we teach it as a skill in our Executive Presentation Skills® program. Here’s how it works.
As you put a new slide up on the screen, it’s news and it takes the audience’s attention off you. Get their attention back quickly and efficiently by “clearing the news.” Tell them what is on slide. If it is a set of bullet points, for example, go through them before discussing any of them in detail. Make sure you are facing the audience when you give them the points. Look at the slide (which directs the audience attention to it), read the bullet point silently, then turn to the audience (which brings their attention back to you), and say the point. Do this bullet by bullet.
Follow this step-by-step technique whether the visual is a list of bullet points, a chart, or a picture:
- change the visual
- point to the visual with your left hand
- keep your right hand free for gestures
- read the visual (silently) yourself
- turn to the audience
- say what’s on the visual
- discuss what the visual means.
If the visual is an image with a caption, read the caption. That will be enough of a description. If it is an image with no words or a chart, just say something brief that connects it to the audience, like “imagine yourself at the controls of this machine” or “look how steep the curve becomes.”
The important thing is to train yourself to not talk to your slides. The “Think-Turn-Talk” technique enables you to talk to the audience and keep the visuals in their proper place: support for you and your message.