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Up to 90% of Business Presenters Talk at Their Audience Instead of Interacting With Them
Find out what kind of presenter you are and five techniques to keep your audience’s attention during your presentation.
Work pressure contributes to a complete lack of preparation for important presentations
Business presenters are under a lot of pressure today. Workloads have increased as companies implement hiring freezes during the global economic slowdown and with Blackberrys ubiquitous, executives are always “on” and subject to a constant stream of information. While they may need to lead weekly meetings, participate in global conference calls or provide regular updates to senior managers, rarely are these constant communication requirements fully prepared or rehearsed.
This means that many executives fall into the trap of going through and filling their presentation time with a stream of data that may or may not be relevant to their audience. Executives who don’t have enough rehearsal and preparation have to focus so much on their content – to the extent that they have to think about every sentence before uttering it – that they completely ignore the fact that a audience listening.
If their audience is peers or juniors then no comment is made on their lackluster performance. However, when dealing with senior managers – who are often located in different countries – the executive may face a grilling in the question and answer section, or a poor reception with frequent that interruption. If they don’t face such direct confrontations, then word gets back to their line manager or HR that they don’t have the communication skills to advance in the organization.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Instead of focusing on content, executives should understand the benefits of audience-centricity in their preparation.
Avoiding data dumping improves executive marketability
While work pressure and the inevitable time squeeze are unavoidable for most executives, with some preparation they can greatly improve how their message is received. This has clear benefits for senior managers. Being known as an executive with communication skills means you feel satisfied when you can influence important decisions that affect the future of the company. You are more likely to be called upon when important projects and high profile pressure situations arise. This can greatly improve the marketability of the executive within the company, as well as being very rewarding in terms of personal fulfillment.
So if you feel like you’re running out of time and believe you could benefit from learning how to adjust your presentation from being too content, don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Your audience is in the same boat as you…too much information
If any of the above sounds familiar, don’t worry, you’re not alone. In fact, you are in good company. Many executives have similar issues. The increasing number of workdays in today’s world means that work doesn’t get done and many executives feel overwhelmed by the pressure and information they need to absorb. You don’t need a scientific study to convince yourself that executives need to digest more information compared to ten or even five years ago.
Of course this means your audience is always in the same boat. They are information overload and often have little patience for data dumps or irrelevant presentations.
Executives cannot be expected to automatically know what it takes to engage with their audience. The good news is that help is here and you can learn these skills.
Shift from content to audience focus with advice from The One Minute Presenter
To get away from throwing out data and giving irrelevant presentations that focus too much on content and adjust more to your audience, you need to first understand what kind of presenter you are.
What kind of presenter are you?
It’s you blocked the audience when you give a presentation without any idea what the audience is doing, thinking, or feeling. You won’t see potential distractions like pen banging or mobile message checking. You don’t hear sighs of exhaustion. You don’t feel like the audience is lost or doesn’t understand your message. In short, your presentation is the same whether the audience is present or not. Many experienced presenters and trainers still have this problem. In my train-the-trainer workshops, I’m always amazed at how blocked many ‘experienced trainers’ are when it comes to the audience. They love their content and deliver it to an empty room. Many technical presenters fall into this trap as they fall into the process when they are nervous.
It’s you depends on the audience if you always need the audience’s reassurance that you are doing a good job. You know the audience’s every move. If an audience member seems unhappy, you are ready to stop everything and solve their issues. You’re not sure if you’re doing well unless the audience tells you you’re doing well. In short, the focus is on you, and the audience is there to make you better.
This type of presenter is always side-tracked and quickly stops the presentation if even one person in the audience breaks a ground rule, such as checking a mobile phone. Although admirable, this often leads to confrontations that do not move the presentation forward or put the presenter in a favorable light. Many novice presenters and inexperienced presenters fall into this category.
It’s you connected with the audience if you are curious about the feeling of the room. You can see how individual members react and even if you don’t stop every time you get a negative response (like a yawn or a sigh), you will take the right course. You might stop and do a quick recap or review question. You know the audience has a limited attention span. You change the pace of delivery, and you insert activities or interactive exercises every 15 or 20 minutes. You share experiences and relevant stories, and you are ready to give the audience their input in the presentation. You see the presentation as a shared experience, and actively make a connection with the audience so they can provide their input. The One Minute Presenter is always connected to the audience.
How do you interact with your audience?
Actively involve the audience
For large presentations or training, use strategies such as games, role plays or other hands-on methods to engage your audience in the material or topic. For conference calls or smaller executive meetings, use the check method below.
Mix up your approach
To reinforce messages and allow for individual differences in learning styles, use different methods of presenting the material. When in doubt, use a visual that represents your message. A picture is worth a thousand words, and a video is worth a million pictures. Do I need to say that the visual should be relevant to your message? Other techniques include shortening your presentation (wow what a nice surprise!)
Use appropriate humor
Maintain interest by using a little humor (but not too distracting). Always test it before your presentation. Ask three to five people you trust and if they agree it’s funny – try it. Do not cross the boundaries of taste and if in doubt do not use it. Again all humor should be relevant to the point you want to convey – and not just a video clip of your pet cat on a skateboard.
Always give relevant and specific examples
The more anecdotes and personal stories you include in your presentation, the more likely your audience will understand and remember your message. With clients and senior managers, open with the phrase, “In my experience,..” which positions you as an authority in your area of expertise which is exactly what they want from you. If you don’t have your own stories, you can refer to other people’s stories by identifying them. It’s not as powerful as something that comes directly from you.
Check and check back with your audience
Don’t assume that your audience understood your message just because they didn’t interrupt you. Many Asian cultures don’t have the habit of directly challenging a presenter but that doesn’t mean they listen either! Make a habit of asking questions often and being aware of their answer. Simple probing questions – like “Does that work for you?”, “Can you see how it relates to the problem at hand?” – Allows you to see how the audience is digesting your messages and also allows questions to be raised. With larger groups you can bring up problems that the audience can solve, for example group work or case studies. The worst technique I’ve seen is to deliver your presentation and then just ask one question at the end: “Are there any questions?” There is often none because the audience turned off years ago. Insert questions every two to four minutes into your presentations.
Many executives have benefited from The One Minute Presenter coaching
I have worked with many senior executives from multinationals around Greater China. Recently, after helping a senior executive become more aware of what kind of presenter he is (blocked by the audience) and practicing some of the techniques mentioned above, he was able to communicate in a more effective way with his audience which means that his presentations are more. It’s great that issues arise during delivery rather than a week or two later. He improved his interaction skills to become more connected with his audience. He now tends to seek more audience participation as a way to test and reinforce his ideas which makes him a more effective (and likable) executive.
So what now?
If you are ready to take a step forward in your career, and you want to know how to become a more powerful communicator, then visit us below and download a free chapter on how to system One Minute Presenter works to help you develop more executive presence.
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