We’ve all been there—trapped in a cold, windowless room with 50 of your nearest and dearest colleagues, listening to some presenter drone on about who knows what.
As you’ve probably gathered from that poor soul, it’s not always easy to lead a training session, conference, or large meeting. In fact, it can be quite the balancing act to keep an audience entertained (and awake) while covering all the necessary information.
But, when it’s your turn to facilitate a group session—don’t panic! It doesn’t have to be something to fear. By following these tips for preparing, presenting effectively, and engaging your audience, you can easily become the presenter that everyone actually wants to learn from.
This might seem obvious, but think about how many trainings and events you’ve been to where the presenter wasn’t prepared—probably more than one!
And preparation goes beyond making great PowerPoint slides and handouts. On the day of your session, take time to arrive early, get set up, and make sure you’re completely comfortable with all of your material. Especially if you’re presenting in an unfamiliar location, schedule time in advance to check the room’s AV capabilities, seating space, and other factors that might impact your ability to present as planned—hurrying around on the day of to get everything working while attendees are arriving will start your day off on a frazzled foot.
Set the Stage
No matter how ready you are to deliver a killer training session, it’s never safe to assume that your audience is equally prepared. So, as you begin your presentation, it’s helpful to give participants some background information on you, the topic, and their fellow attendees. Plan some time to provide an overview of the day, answer questions, and do a quick ice-breaker—like asking everyone to give their name, title, and favorite local restaurant. Often, just having people introduce themselves can help everyone feel more comfortable. (Oh, and if you have the budget—give them coffee. That always helps.)
Engage your Audience
Remember that your audience won't get all the information they need just by sitting and listening to you speak—most people learn more effectively and retain information better when they can try out what’s being presented to them. The best training sessions I’ve attended were ones that allowed me to interact with the trainer and apply what I was learning in the moment—through role playing different scenarios or having an open dialogue with the instructor. Keep your audience involved by integrating participant activities like relevant trivia or Q&A sessions into your discussion.
When you’ve spent a lot of time preparing, and things are moving along nicely, it’s okay to relax a bit and enjoy the experience. You don’t need to become a stand-up comedian, but you can definitely intersperse humor and personal anecdotes into your presentation—it can help your audience relate to you and stay interested in what’s going on.
Read the Crowd
Even with all the preparation in the world, sometimes you may find yourself leading a group who just isn’t that into you. I’ve definitely had moments when I was presenting and could suddenly tell my audience had become disengaged. My advice: Take this as an opportunity to pause, regroup, and slightly alter your course.
If the group seems zoned out or lethargic, take time to insert an activity like a stretch break or even tossing a ball around as you ask participants questions. If the opposite occurs and participants are getting a bit too heated or passionate about what’s being discussed, it might be a good time to take a breather. Just as actors read their audience throughout their performance, stay tuned to your participants, their body language, and the real-time feedback they’re giving you.
Ask for Feedback
Soliciting feedback from the people who attended your session is one of the best ways to measure how well they processed the information and what they liked most and least about your presentation. Depending on the structure of your session, you can do this through surveys as participants leave, or with a follow-up email afterward.
Be open to this feedback and use what you learn to your advantage—knowing what worked and what didn’t can help you change things up next time and become an even better presenter. No matter how much of an expert you become, there’s always room to fine-tune your technique!
Above all, be prepared and be attentive, no matter how straightforward the content may seem. Remember that your audience will rely on your energy and knowledge to carry them through the day, so a bit of extra preparation on your end is worth it to ensure that you’ll have a successful presentation. If you do what it takes to make sure both you and your audience are comfortable, the rest will fall into place. Good luck!
Photo courtesy of Karola Riegler.