Even with a snappy opening, after 10 minutes, most audiences will lose 75 percent of their listening capacity. In other words, a speaker has a short window to grab her audience, and she must work throughout the speech to draw listeners into her presentation. Effective speakers use a variety of presentation skills to deliver a message that is understood and remembered.
Behind every powerful speech is a solid outline aligned with the goal of the presentation. Effective speakers understand that wandering presentations are impossible to understand and are guaranteed to lose an audience. One basic structure is an "open, body and close" approach. If the goal is to inform, information may be structured by cause and effect, chronologically or by subject. All informative structure strategies should have guiding transitions in between each topic. If the goal is persuasion, Monroe's Motivated Sequence is a technique of presenting information that involves an audience in both a problem and a solution.
Voice tone and speed are well-known topics when it comes to presentation skills. Relaxation and practice are the best ways to improve voice tone and pace. Visualizing presentation success can help a speaker start with a smile, which pays off with a smoother vocal delivery. Reading a children's book in advance of a speech can help improve intonation by reminding a speaker of the importance of vocal emphasis for important points. Visualizing a metronome or writing "slow down" on note cards can help slow a speedy talker.
Nonverbal communication, such as dress and gestures, can dramatically influence the acceptance of a presentation. A speaker's dress should match his audience and the significance of the event. For example, a speaker presenting to a corporate audience should wear a suit. On the other hand, a speaker presenting at a retreat with a business-casual dress code should match his style to the audience. Dress specifics will vary from speaker to speaker, but the key is choosing clothes that enhance, not distract, from the message. Keep movement close to the body to ensure gestures are emphasizing key points and not distracting from the message.
If used correctly, technology can help keep audience interest. PowerPoint is a popular, but often misused, presentation technology. Like nonverbal communication, the key to PowerPoint success is designing slides to enhance, not take over, the presentation. Interactive aspects like videos, "non-cheesy" animations and web streaming are audience-engagement options for speakers with a solid grasp of the technology. Nothing kills a presentation faster than a speaker fumbling to fix technological tricks.
Message acceptance is a two-way communication process and requires audience research. Weeks or days before a presentation, speakers can interview or survey audience members to understand their interest, mood and experience with the topic and then make any necessary adjustments to the presentation. If time is not available, speakers should arrive before their presentation and chat with audience members to get a sense of their needs.
Eryn Travis has over 15 years of freelance-writing experience. She has written for "Aviation News Today" and was the managing producer and host for the cable TV news show of the same name. She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Maryland and is finishing up a master's degree in communication studies from West Chester University.