Dear Latimer: How Can I Make My Presentation More Conversational?

Hello friends! We are continuing our latest blog tradition of fielding your questions about effective communication.

If you have a question you want to engage us on, send away! Just email us directly with your question. We will always answer directly back to you. And when appropriate, we will publish your question and our answer here (always with your permission, and anonymously if requested). Our goal is to give you some quick support and share some of our answers with the entire Latimer Community.

So, fire away with those questions, and we look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great day! ~Dean and Team Latimer

Dear Dean/Latimer,

I often present status updates to my colleagues, and am often told I need to make it less formal and more “conversational.” I have a big one coming up where I will be sharing information about the need for audience members to prepare for some pretty big infrastructure changes. How do I achieve that more conversational tone?

— Cathey

Good morning Cathey! Great question, and thanks for reaching out. Not an uncommon goal or question… you are not alone!

It has been a few years since you and I last interacted in a workshop, so I don’t have any recent insight into how you are presenting these days. But I did look back on my notes for you from several years ago, and I have a few comments worth sharing today.

In order to sound more conversational, I would think about a few things:

Don’t talk at your audience. Speak with your audience. Before you can make it a conversation, you have to think about it, and prepare for it as a conversation. When I present, I never, EVER, think to myself that I am about “give a presentation.” I always think to myself that I am about to “have a conversation.” For me, this sets up a totally different mindset, which has pretty big trickle down effects on my performance.

Don’t be too scripted. Not sure how reliant you are upon your notes, but that is often part of the problem when people end up sounding too formal. If you want or need some notes, that’s fine. Lots of great presenters do. Just make sure that your notes consist of key words, themes, or phrases rather than full text. This approach will help you remember those key themes, but force you to weave them together in a more conversational way.

Take the audience beyond the slide. We always like to tell our participants, “don’t tell me what the slide says; tell me what the slide means.” Take your comments above and beyond what is written on the slide.

Use names of people in the audience in your examples and explanations. If you are doing a hypothetical example about the impact of your infrastructure changes, then personalize it by saying something like “Dean, when we make these changes, you might see the following impact…” Or “Dean, I know you and your team are wondering about the next steps.” Personalize it.

Relax. Do your very best to be in a frame of mind where you can smile, show some eye contact, relax your body language. Sometimes a conversational feel comes down to the vibe we create in the room. It is not always about vocabulary or specific techniques. My relaxation routine includes some deep breathing, some positive self talk in a private place, and when it is a really big event, short 5 or 10 minute relaxation meditations.

Know your content, cold. This may sound obvious, but its often part of the root cause problem. It is much easier to “riff” and relax and be conversational when you know exactly what you want to say, and where you are trying to go. If you are desperately trying to remember what to say next, it will be much harder to relax and go “off script.”

Lots of ways to think about this, Cathey. I hope this helps. I am sure you will do great.

Good luck!

— Dean

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Dean Brenner

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.