You may remember that I am a big TED fan (not the cuddly animal – the amazing conference). Digging thought the archives recently, I rediscovered this gem from Al Gore. He has become a powerful communicator and this is a fine example. Here are some key things that he does, that you can do too:

  • Start with them not you
    • Build rapport with the audience
    • Interact with them
    • Take them into your confidence
  • Make your slides work for you and your audience
    • Work with your slides
    • Use simple graphics, not lots of text
    • Use colour – it enhances recall
  • Use narrative
    • Use the power of story
    • Use the power of the unexpected
    • Use good humour
  • Speak little and with big gestures

Start with them not you when you present

Right at the start he acknowledges the audience and thanks the organizers. It is good manners to thank whoever it was that invited you, and good practice if you want to be invited back. Be personal and personable. Even from the stage, you can build a relationship with the audience. Effective communication comes out of relationship. Invest time in building rapport with the audience, before trying to making your point.

Talk to the audience as individuals, as if you are having a conversation, but you just happen to be doing most of the talking. Make it a two way conversation by interacting with the audience and asking questions. For a large audience, a question with a show of hands works well. In a small venue a show of hands is less intimidating than asking someone to answer. Notice how Al Gore uses asides to the audience. Taking the audience into your confidence builds trust.

Make your slides work for you – they are your support

Work with your slides. Don’t let them control you, but don’t leave them as a random light show behind you. Notice how Al Gore engages with his slides. He gestures towards them, points at them, and even looks at them as each new slide appears. Let the slides join in the conversation . If you look at your slides, your audience will too. A note of caution though: don’t end up talking to your slides, facing away from the audience. It may be ok if you have a microphone, but without one people won’t be able to hear you. It also isn’t good for anyone who needs to lip read. Remember, when you look at the slides, you have lost eye contact with the audience. Too long with out eye contact and you will loose their attention.

Use slides with simple graphics, rather than lots of text, to support your point. But do avoid irrelevant photos and poor quality clip art. A photo of your dog might be cute, but if the dog isn’t your point, it distracts from it. Use graphics that make your point, not ones that say something else. Less really is more on a slide. I don’t like all of the slide designs in the talk, but they do work to support his points. Notice how colour (or even color 🙂 ) is used. It increases information retention significantly, as long at it doesn’t look like an explosion in a paint factory.

Tell a story – use narrative in your presentation

Story telling has its own special power; ‘and then… and then… and then…. and then’. This natural flow creates a sense of progress, of getting somewhere. Humour is a fantastic communication tool as well, but not jokes that are in poor taste. Al Gore uses Self-deprecating humour. This is a safer bet, although don’t over do it. Remember that you don’t have the status of an ex-vice president. If you knock yourself down too many rungs, people will wonder why they are listening to you. Use a narrative, then break it. Saying or doing something unexpected can be humorous and will keep the audience’s attention, just don’t go overboard.

Less words, more action(s)

Speak little, but with big gestures. Al Gore uses pace and pause to great effect. Notice the gaps between sentences, this is thinking time for you and the audience. Think of the speed of your words like a car on a race track, slow down for the corners, pick up the pace on the straights. Use hand gestures, but go bigger than you would in a one to one conversation. For fans of Father Ted, think ‘big cow, little cow’. As Father Ted is always trying to explain to Dougal, a big cow that is far away looks like a little cow. Your big hand gestures on stage look like little ones from far away. Also, don’t go all symmetrical with those gestures. If both hands do the same thing all the time, it starts to look unnatural. Be you, just a little bit bigger.

Enjoy the video here

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