WRITTEN BY Robin Amos Kahn, Coach, Own The Room

Imagine you’re sitting in a conference room and the speaker arrives at the podium holding a huge stack of papers and immediately starts showing endless power point slides. Each slide is dense with so many bullet points, sentences and graphs—you can barely take any of it in. It’s a barrage of information.

How do you feel at that moment? Bored? Frustrated? Angry? What are you thinking about? How can you escape? What’s for lunch? If you fall asleep, will anyone notice?

It’s not that the speaker doesn’t have great ideas and important content. He or she has probably worked for weeks or months preparing for this. They care deeply about what you think of their presentation and they are eager to impart all their wisdom. In fact, most speakers are so proud of how much research and time they’ve put into their presentation; they want you to see ALL OF IT.

What they don’t understand is this: the speaker doesn’t matter.

You read that right. The speaker doesn’t matter. But two things do matter: your content and the audience. The best speakers have a conversation with the audience. Audiences don’t want speakers who talk at them. Speakers need to be listening to the audience, watching them, getting a sense of how much information they are absorbing, how effectively they are communicating—and most importantly, how engaged they are.

Now imagine, if that same speaker came into the room and started their presentation with a great story that illustrates their subject. Audiences are 22 times more likely to remember a fact if it’s wrapped around a story.

What if that same speaker, asked a few questions of the audience? One of our favorite techniques we teach at Own the Room is called a body poll. For example: “Show me with your fingers, 0 to 10—how concerned are you about global warming?” or: “the state of the coral reefs in our oceans?”  or: “show me with your fingers, where would you say United States’ education ranks with the rest of the world?” (While some may guess that the U.S. is actually 10th—both hands raised—we’re 14th, and the body poll makes a lasting impression about that number.)

Engaging the audience, having a “conversation”—showing less power points and more images, or short videos, or telling more stories, or asking more questions, enables our audience to retain more information, feel more, be more engaged. It’s a little like having skin in the game. If we’re on a team and all we do is sit on the bench, how much do we care about the outcome?

We care more when we feel our voice has been heard, even in a simple body poll.  As presenters, it’s our job to remember, it’s the content and our audiences that matter. Not us. That is the goal of effective communication.

Audiences wish us well—they want us to succeed, but they also want to learn something, to be engaged, to feel something—they want to walk away enlightened, intrigued, curious, wanting to know more, and hopefully taking an action. If you overwhelm them with too many power point slides, their bodies may remain in the room, but their minds are somewhere else.

They’re already at lunch.

At Own the Room we suggest the 10/20/30 rule/suggestion. Ten slides, twenty minutes of presentation, thirty minutes of discussion. In other words, more engagement, less slides.

Think of presentations as creative challenges to involve audiences with pictures and emotions, stories, strong visual imagery. Don’t hide behind your power point—give information in a creative way. Don’t try to be like every other presenter. Allow your authentic personality to shine. Learn how to effectively use your voice and your body language. Be bold, be innovative. Forget yourself. Be present. Connect with your audience and deliver not just a message, but a memorable one.

“Tell me a fact and I’ll listen. Tell me a truth and I’ll learn. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.”  
American Indian quote

Robin Amos Kahn

I’ll never forget the high-powered executive who had lost her way. She loved public speaking when she was younger but started dreading it. After a session of executive coaching with her, I noticed a shift. She became more confident —and more effective. By the end of the first day of training, she said, “Thank you for giving me back my voice. I’m so grateful.”

 I have been a professional writer for over 25 years, writing mainly for television, theater and the Internet. I’ve worked for CBS and NBC; M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, the United Nations Development Programme, and I am a contributing writer for The Huffington Post. Most of my work has been about effective communication, transformation, and the willingness to be a leader. 

I love being a coach at Own the Room. It is so gratifying to see people who think that they are either just okay speakers or really bad ones or discouraged ones, like that executive, do a 180 by the end of the training. I love working with people individually and in our groups to help them become more self-assured in all areas of their lives.

Learning to be a great communicator is critical for everyone in leadership positions. My goal is to help you get there – to motivate and inspire others – and in turn, empower them to take on new possibilities for success.