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29/03/2019 – Special Report / Business / Public Speaking / Graham Shaw

The art of conversation, onstage

Public speaking_The art of conversation,

Don’t do a presentation – instead, have a conversation. That’s the message from Graham Shaw – a professional speaker and coach to executives at huge brands such as the BBC and HSBC, as well as to TEDx speakers – who highlights the benefits of changing the way we think about public speaking.


A presentation may seem one-way – however, it never really is. The audience are always responding in some way. They communicate through body language such as eye contact, expressions and gestures. They may laugh, cheer or even gasp in amazement.


Many are tired of stuffy, formal presentations – unsurprising then, that it’s like a breath of fresh air when a speaker just talks to them in a ‘normal’ way. It feels much better when a speaker talks to an audience rather than at them.


Why it matters


Conversations feel different from presentations because:


● presentations can have a formal atmosphere;

● conversations often are friendly and informal;

● a conversational style can relax the audience;

● rapport can be built easily with a conversational style.


What to do


There are five key ways in which you can be more conversational onstage:


1. Think of it as if it is a conversation – and you will act as if it is


The way you think affects how you come across and changes how the audience responds – that’s the power of the mind. When you speak like it’s a conversation, they feel as if you are relating to them more personally. Therefore, instead of being in a ‘presenting’ mindset, think as if it is a conversation.


2. Regard the audiences as if they are friends you have never met


I used to be apprehensive at the start of any training courses I was leading. I would wonder if some people would be difficult for me to manage. However, when I got to know the course participants, almost everyone always turned out to be very nice.


Then something dawned on me. Instead of waiting to find out, perhaps I could decide from the beginning that they were all nice people. Therefore, I thought of them as if they were friends I had never met. It made a huge difference to my confidence.


So, think of your audience as if they are friends. It will positively change how you perceive them and also how they respond: a ‘win-win’.


3. Think of your presentation as if it is a story


Presentations can seem like an ordeal to be endured for both presenter and audience. The set of slides can seem like a set of hurdles. However, in a way, a presentation really is a story; it has a beginning, middle and end.


When you think of your presentation as a story, you will explain it better and people will absorb your message more easily. 


4. Prepare good links to make it flow easily


A good conversation flows along and a presentation should do the same. The way to achieve this is to make sure you have good links between one point and the next. These links act as signposts and keep people aware of how it all fits together. People like strong links because they can follow you more easily.


5. Don’t read – just talk to the audience


Don’t read from a script or the slides, unless you need to quote something verbatim. Reading your presentation can make it seem stilted. People can see that you’re reading, so it will come across as the opposite of conversational.


Start adopting a conversational style and your audience will enjoy your talks.


Graham Shaw is author of ‘The Speaker’s Coach: 60 secrets to make your talk, speech or presentation amazing’ – published by Pearson, priced £14.99, and available on Amazon.

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