as originally answered on Quora.com
For far too long, many presenters believe that delivering a presentation is a one-way process. The presenter delivers the goods and the audience passively receives them.
It may have been that way once upon a time. Nowadays, audiences have higher expectations of presenters. They expect the presentation to be interactive and they expect to be able to ask questions of the presenter.
The basics of communication is as follows: A delivers a message to B. B receives it and responds to A. If B doesn’t receive the message in the first place, communication hasn’t taken place. If B does receive the message but chooses not to respond to A, then communication has occurred but A does not receive any feedback.
When presenting i.e. communicating to your audience, listening to your audience is only one of the tasks that you need to be doing.
The most obvious reason to listen to your audience, at least to me, is to ensure they are awake. Snoring is a good clue that your presentation and topic aren’t as exciting as you would believe. More than one audience member snoring is even a more startling observation. Not in my presentations of course … but I have seen it many times in others.
As a presenter you need to listen to your audience and perhaps direct your presentation to meet the audience’s needs, not necessarily yours.
Depending on the structure of your presentation you can allow questions as you proceed through your material or you can wait until the end. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. If you allow questions throughout your presentation you need to allow time for the questions, your answers and additional dialogue. This can take up time so you likely need to plan on delivering less content than you might have expected.
On the other hand, if you plan for questions and don’t get them, you may finish earlier than you planned. Another often experienced problem when allowing questions throughout the program is ‘railroading.’ I’m not sure of the origin of the phrase but it means that an audience member has taken your presentation in a direction that you hadn’t planned or wanted to go in.
Waiting to answer questions until the end, while possibly helping the flow of your perspective, can have a negative impact. If an audience member is focussed on a particular question from earlier in your presentation, then they are not keeping up to you in your current delivery.
As I said, listening is only one task that you need to be doing as a presenter. Most North Americans likely speak at a rate of 150 to 175 words a minute. We make speak faster when we are excited but we risk losing some of our audience members who can’t keep up to us.
Or minds work at over 1000 words a minute, or even faster. At the same time that we are listening to the audience and delivering our material, we need to be thinking of many other things. Examples: Does the audience seem to be getting my message? Is the room too hot or cold? Am I boring them? Have I lost them? Is there anybody that seems particularly excited about my topic and presentation? I think you get the idea here.
While you are presenting, you also need to be multitasking in your mind. This is where the feedback comes in. You need to be constantly assessing your audience. Of course, as the size of the audience increases, it becomes exponentially difficult to do so.
Thanks for the question!
For further discussion on public speaking, speech development, communication skills and Toastmasters, visit the Live For Excellence Book Store for the following publications:
Blow Your Own Horn!: Personal Branding for Business Professionals
Power Networking For Shy People: How to Network Like a Pro
The Power of Persuasion: Mastering the Art of Influence
The Power of Promotion: Online Marketing For Toastmasters Club Growth
The Savvy Emcee: How to be a Dynamic Master of Ceremonies
Working With Words: Adding Life to Your Oral Presentations
Rae A. Stonehouse is an author, speaker, and self-publishing consultant dedicated to helping others embrace constant improvement and overcome challenges. With over 40 years of experience as a Registered Nurse in psychiatry and mental health, Rae brings a wealth of knowledge and passion for self-development to his writing and presentations.
As a 25+ year member of Toastmasters International, Rae has systematically built his communication abilities and self-confidence to share his insights as an author and speaker. His self-help books and personal development presentations aim to have conversational one-on-one connections with readers and audiences.
Rae is known for his wry sense of humor and sage advice delivered in a relatable coaching style. After four decades as a nurse, Rae has rewired rather than retired, actively writing and pursuing public speaking. He strives to share lessons learned to help others achieve personal and professional growth.