Conversation vs Presentation – How To Talk With Your Audience

[box type=”note” border=”full” icon=”none”]Today’s guest post is brought to you by Anna and Ken Boynton of Message Glue are communications consultants who create content, produce creative and coach human executives to be better presenters.[/box]

We’ve all been talked at. For many of us, our parents talked at us. Then, our teachers talked at us. And these days, many of our bosses and supervisors talk at us. People in authority roles who want us to do things they think we should be doing tend to talk at us.

Compare that to being talked with. Our friends talk with us. Those times when our parents talk with us are remembered and special to us. The teachers we carry with us are those who talked with us in the classroom.

There’s no shortage of proof that talking with is more effective than talking at. So, then…why do we do it?

Here’s where we get to “presentation” vs. “conversation.” When we attend meetings or conferences, we see presentations. And there, inherent in the root word itself, is the culprit. Information is being presented to us. We sit quietly while someone “shows” us something and “tells” us why we need to know it (often using phrases like “it’s critical…” or “we MUST…”). With presentations, it becomes easy to tune out. We don’t really take in all the information coming at us (and we don’t even want to, because we are being kept at arm’s length. We are being talked at…so we wait with increasing impatience for it to stop.

Conversations are simply much more interesting than presentations. There may be information being revealed to us, but it’s usually couched in the desire for a mutual understanding and comprehension. We are invited to hear what is being imparted and take it in on a cognitive, human level. It feels authentic…and real to us.

However, when we’re asked to give a presentation, we tend to forget all that. Why? Because a presentation is serious…there are people counting on us to deliver…we must be “on message”…there’s pressure to perform and get it right. We need to convey to our people important facts and figures, initiatives and directives.

So we model what we know…what our parents, teachers and bosses have done before us: we present. Our style of presenting comes from imitating what we believe we are supposed to do. And there are plenty of tips and books that reinforce the “how-to’s” of presenting.

Here’s the problem: We don’t tend to go about our days presenting. Most of us don’t practice presenting, even when we have a presentation to give. But…every day we do have conversations. Most of us are well-practiced in the area of conversing.

At first glance, it’s hard to compare those conversations to the high-stakes world of onstage presentations. Conversations are easy, right? We talk all the time. Talking isn’t a big deal. It’s casual, not full of pressure. Speaking in front of an audience is acknowledged as one of our greatest fears. And the messages we must present are seen as more weighty. It makes perfect sense to think that presenting calls for a tone that shows authority and credibility.

However…when we do that, it doesn’t work in our favor. At the very least, it makes us sound authoritative and inaccessible. At most, it makes us sound dead boring.

Anyone who’s mildly successful in business (or being a human) is pretty good at conversing. We practice it all the time. Not just at work, but at the grocery store, at home, on the weekends. We’re pretty darn good at it.

So the answer is to not leave all that skill and practice behind when we “present.” No heart surgeon would try an operation with a kitchen knife. No major league pitcher would toss pitches underhand. Neither would ever undermine their talent and expertise, and neither should a presenter. Neither should you.

How you speak to one person…how you feel, how you project, how you modulate your voice, should carry over to speaking to many people. Because each person in your audience is listening to you as if you were indeed speaking only to them. In fact, if awareness of that simple fact stays at the front of your mind when you are speaking to a group, you will automatically connect better with your audience.

You’ve used conversation effectively to get your job and grow your career (not to mention get married, make friends, and have trusted relationships with colleagues and associates). So when it comes time to “present,” make sure you fit everything you say (and everything you reveal) into your own unique conversational style. Never try to be someone other than yourself when you’re onstage. By being yourself, you’ll be presenting the uniqueness that has already made you successful in the first place. And those unique qualities, when turned outward, are perceived as authenticity (and often charisma) by your audience. A conversational tone feels more respectful, more approachable, and more listenable to your audience. They’ll be compelled to accept and remember the information you’re sharing, and they’ll be compelled to respect you.

It’s a tried-and-true human communication secret that works everywhere offstage. It’s time to try it onstage and see what a huge difference it makes when you talk with your audience, rather than at them.

[box type=”note” border=”full” icon=”none”]This post was written by Anna and Ken Boynton of MessageGlue. Also, image credit goes to the brave person who took this picture, as well as whoever gave the boring presentation and, of course, the gentlemen who chose to take a nap and check their email rather than being talked to. [/box]