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Great Presenters are Committed Audience Members



There’s a fallacy in the world of presenting and demonstrating:  delivering a good presentation should be a comfortable experience.  That’s like a runner saying they are going to run a 10K without breathing hard.  Runners “feel good” before the run (I’m doing the right thing) and when they finish (I’m glad I did that).  But during the run?  Nope.  Doesn’t feel good.  

Life as a presenter is the same.  We can feel confident before our presentation (I’ve got a great story prepared) and after (I really connected with my audience).  But during the presentation?  Nope.  That’s when we question the effectiveness of the techniques we are using.  The weird thing about presenting is, that’s a good thing.  

As presenters and demonstrators, we have to come to grips with two important realities:


  • Every time we get in front of an audience, if we are not pushing ourselves to a point of discomfort, we are not doing our job.  That is the “breathing hard” part of presenting. Presenters can’t be the judge of the effectiveness of our presentations.  That’s the audience’s job.  
  • So how do we as presenters determine if a technique is the right thing to do in front of an audience?  By being an audience member.  Don’t judge the effectiveness of a technique on how it feels when you do it.  Judge it based on how it feels when you receive it.

Here are two practical recommendations:

Be an Audience Member

Attend presentations where the techniques you are experimenting with are being used.  Commit to being a true audience member.  Don’t just be an observer; roll up your sleeves and be a full-on member of the audience.  Now, having walked in the shoes of the audience, decide if the technique was effective or not.  If it was, bring that realization to mind the next time you feel uncomfortable using the technique in your own presentation.  Remember, it’s not how it feels to you as the presenter; it’s how it feels to the audience.  Being a committed audience member gives you both data points.

Find the Outer Limit, then Come Back
Remember you can always pull back a technique, but it makes no sense to do that until you find its outer limit from the perspective of the audience.  If you don’t “push” a technique to an extreme, you will never gain the rewards of its effectiveness.  Obviously, you don’t want to use a customer or prospect audience to determine this outer limit.  You have to turn to your teammates. 


So, find a trusted, open-minded colleague(s) and experiment with them.  Together, practice your techniques fully in-role with one of you as presenter and the other(s) the audience.  Push the technique to a point of discomfort; to that feeling you have gone “too far”.  Discuss how each of you “felt” from your respective roles (presenter and audience member).  Then pull back from there.  Make sure each of you play both roles, paying special attention to how it feels as an audience member.  A couple final thoughts: Take audience demographics and culture into consideration (company, geographic, generational). 

Doing your in-role practice face-to-face certainly has its advantages.  But don’t let that be the constraint.  Web presenting tools can deliver a near-live experience for colleagues that do not office together.  Also, recorded presentations enable colleagues with non-overlapping schedules to experiment together (e.g. time zone challenges).

Let me close by saying something that this may come across a little harsh: It is not about you as the presenter.   It is about your audience.  The closer you can connect with the experience of being an audience member, the better presenter you will be. 


Great presenters are committed audience members.


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