Presentation as Conversation


Overcoming nerves may be as simple as a shift in perspective


Do you sometimes doubt your ability to present well?
The truth is, there’s not much difference between a presentation and a conversation. A presentation is nothing more than a conversation on a larger scale — perhaps with more purpose, more clarity, and some preparation, but a conversation nonetheless.

You… shy?
I work out with a fantastic personal trainer. He comes across as smart, entertaining, perceptive and very motivating. (I actually look forward to our sessions!) I asked him recently if he ever thought about building his business by making presentations within companies that want to promote health and fitness to their employees. He looked at me as if I had just suggested we head to McDonald’s for a healthy snack. Turns out he’s petrified of public speaking.

How could someone who’s so great at conversation lack the confidence to talk to more than one person at a time? Too often, people fail to appreciate their own strengths or see a broader use for the things they do well.

What skills do you use?
Think about it. When you’re having a conversation — with a friend, colleague, spouse, about something serious or frivolous — you use the same skills that make people good presenters, without thinking about it consciously.

  • You look directly at who you’re talking to
  • You use words to communicate your thoughts
  • You use a tone that matches the subject (light, heavy, funny, sad, etc.)
  • You make sure the person can hear you
  • You use your hands, body and facial expressions for emphasis

Sounds like what you do when making a presentation, doesn’t it? Of course it does! Think about that the next time you doubt your abilities.

Expanding the conversation
Yes, there are of course some differences between having a conversation and giving a presentation:

  • Proximity: Generally you’re much closer to your “audience” when having a conversation.
  • Pace: Most presentations are given at a slower pace than when speaking to a friend.
  • Tools: Rarely do we have conversations that involve a microphone!
  • Structure: Conversations are generally much less structured in language and format than more formal presentations.

But upon close examination, the similarities far outweigh the differences. With a slight shift in thinking, it’s easy to start viewing a presentation as an enlarged and directed conversation…one that you’ve had the time to practice and prepare for. As for my trainer, we had a conversation about it and now he’s starting to look at public speaking from a slightly different perspective. If similar fears have been holding you back, maybe it’s time you did the same.

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