By Paul du Toit
It may seem obvious to the seasoned presenter that excellence develops as a result of consistent planning and ultimately experience. But with experience comes another tool for the advanced presenter – the one who has moved beyond worrying about popularity and now focuses keenly on the desired results. That tool is anticipation.It is a vital element for many top sports people who rely on anticipation to guess where the ball will go to next, and it’s a vital tool for those who take the art of presenting seriously.
Anticipation starts with research. By gathering accurate information about the audience in advance, the presenter is able to anticipate the key concerns of the audience and thus understand the possible impediments to a successful presentation outcome. She may then prepare accordingly and decide on key bits of information to add or exclude from the presentation.
During the presentation, the presenter should be able to gauge whether or not the audience is on her side and following the flow of information by maintaining a high level of eye contact and a good natured, friendly delivery style.
An important opportunity for measurement arrives once the body of the presentation is over – that’s when question time should be scheduled (if there is a question time). It is here where anticipation is most important. Using a combination of initial research and by gauging how well the presentation has been received so far, the presenter should be able to anticipate most of the questions that should come from this audience.
Why is this so important? Well, the purpose of allowing questions is to ascertain whether there are areas of importance or concern that may have been left uncovered or unaddressed. But question time so often proves to serve quite the opposite purpose, becoming the death knell of many a well prepared presentation – especially where that presentation had everything in place except anticipation. If you have a reasonable idea what questions you are going to receive, there is less likelihood that you will be caught off guard.
Anyone with experience at hosting Question and Answer (Q&A) sessions will understand that the act of inviting questions is in itself a risk, as you relinquish a degree of control to the questioners. This is why anticipation is so important.
Your ability to predict what’s coming helps you to stay calm and in control, maintaining an air of authority.
In the event that a question catches you off guard, the best technique is to buy a few seconds to gather your thoughts by repeating the question – preferably in your own words. This creates the impression that you are ensuring that everyone hears the question clearly before you launch in to your response and is usually seen as a courtesy. For you, however, those few seconds can be a lifeline as you collect your thoughts. If you genuinely do not have the answer to the question, undertake to do some research and get back to the questioner in a reasonable time.
The final thing to anticipate, also in advance, is the success of your presentation. You should stride to the podium with a clear vision of your goal in your sights. It is this resolve, more than many other popular presentation tools, that will be most influential in determining whether the final outcome is the one you wanted.
You can’t let the audience decide your outcome as you go along. You decide at the start, and take the audience with you to your logical conclusion.
Paul du Toit is the Author of You Can Present With Confidence and a Certified Speaking Professional. He is one of the world’s leading presentation coaches, helping thousands of clients radically improve their communication skills and develop the psychology of a great speaker.
Paul is a founder member and past president of the Professional Speakers Association of Southern Africa and he lectures regularly at Pretoria University’s Gordon Institute of Business Science on Presentation Skills.
Get more tips and tools from Paul du Toit, CSP at his website, http://www.presentationskills.co.za