Feed me. This is what every dog is saying when you look into their eyes. You know they’re playing you in the hope of getting that extra treat. But that moment when your eyes meet feels so heartwarming that it renders their manipulation superfluous (OR that it makes their manipulation feel incidental) and has you reaching into the doggie cupboard for the dried liver.
It comes to dogs instinctively and necessarily. Since we don’t speak each other’s language, their methods of communication are limited to their eyes (and maybe their tails and teeth, if you get too energetic). And as humans, it’s also one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal engagement. It connects and conveys sentiment – desire, happiness, surprise, anger, sadness, aggression. And love. Our eyes say, “You’re important to me, and I care about you.”
So it baffles me that so many presenters do not use this tool in their arsenal when speaking with their audience. I’ve noticed that many focused on anything BUT the audience, the people they’re there to engage. Instead they’re looking at inanimate objects – their speaking notes on a podium or a desk, the slides on their computer or in what I consider a worst case scenario, their PowerPoint presentation on a screen, while their backs are turned to their audience.
When this happens and I’m in the audience, I feel like I don’t matter. They matter. Their insecurity, or overwhelming stage fright or lack of time to rehearse and commit at least some major points to memory are what matter. Or – less generously – they simply didn’t care enough to put in the effort.
They’re not getting one of the basic tenets of presentations. And life. Practice makes perfect. And getting the content of your presentation down cold leaves you with the confidence to actually engage with your audience. To speak to them, not at them. To look like you’re there with them. And you may not look adorable enough to get that liver treat but you will convey knowledge and confidence and engender trust. People will want to listen to you instead of checking their Facebook account on their mobile phone or wondering what they’re feeding the kids tonight.
I know, it’s scary and daunting. Fear is a prime motivator of almost every shitty presentation that’s been read off a screen. Like most people, unless you happen to be a sociopath, you’re afraid you’ll stumble over your words, forget what you’re supposed to say, skip essential information that makes your case. And that’s why you practice. Alone for the first few times in whatever way is comfortable. Lying down and memorizing. Standing up and pacing. And then you practice again but this time in front of someone supportive who will give you props first and then some constructive criticism. (Remind them you need the props first, even if it’s just ‘yah, that shirt suits you’). And when you feel confident enough to take to the stage, practice one more time. And remember, once you’ve engaged your audience, there is nothing you can do that’s so wrong – minus illegal shit – that you can’t fix it because they’re rooting for you to succeed. You’ve got them. They’re engaged.
Liberate yourself from the podium. Create a personal connection with each and every audience member. LOOK at them. You’ll feel the love.
Just look into the puppy’s eyes and tell me I’m wrong.