“You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” the saying goes. It follows then, that when sizing up a person making a presentation, we shouldn’t be swayed by first impressions.
That’s the ideal. But the reality is different.
Like it or not, humans are definitely inclined to size each other up quickly. Our first impressions of other people are influenced by factors such as facial shape, vocal inflection, attractiveness, and our general emotional state, to name a few.
Psychology Today states it takes a mere seven seconds to make a first impression. And more important, first impressions can stick.
We tend to get attached to our initial impressions of people and find it very difficult to change our opinion of them, even when presented with lots of evidence to the contrary.
With this in mind, it’s important to be aware of how we first come across to others when delivering a speech or making a presentation.
The good news is there is much we can do to ensure our listeners develop a more favourable opinion of us. Here are some suggestions that will help:
1. Dress and grooming
What you wear and how you groom says a lot about you. But to avoid creating a negative first impression, take a cue from leaders in your workplace. They set the cultural tone. If they wear a suit and tie, then you should do so. The goal is to not stand out as being too different.
Be neat, clean, and generally conservative. Women are repeatedly rated by their workplace peers as being more competent, responsible, and trustworthy when they wear conservative clothing that doesn’t flaunt their femineity.
2. Mind your body language
Your body language can help you or hinder you. It speaks volumes. When you’re nervous, it shows in the way you’re standing and especially in what you’re doing with your hands.
Avoid clasping your hands behind your back, holding rigidly at your sides, or tightly clutching the lectern. Don’t repeatedly put your hands in and out of your pockets, button and unbutton your jacket, or touch your cheek, nose, or eyeglasses. Don’t use hand gestures that are jerky or incomplete. And don’t shuffle your feet, sway from side to side, or slouch—all of which convey a lack of confidence.
Walk to the front with purpose, breathe slowly and deeply, calmly arrange your materials, stand up straight and look at your audience, pause for a moment and smile, and then begin to speak.
3. Avoid clichéd introductions
Carefully choose your opening sentence. Avoid clichéd openers such as “Hello and thanks for being here.” Use one of the following openers instead:
· A simple statement of your main topic or proposition. (For example, this could be in the form of a problem and solution.)
· A thought-provoking question, statement, or quotation. (Avoid embarrassing or shocking your audience though)
· A brief story, analogy, or personal anecdote. (Make sure it has point that relates to your topic)
Your objective is to capture their attention, clearly identify your subject, and show why your subject is important to your audience.
4. Identify with your audience
Put yourself in the place of your listeners. A good starting point is to imagine them thinking: “So what! Who cares! What’s in it for me?” Then lead with a statement that promises them some benefit. You could, for example, highlight a problem they face and state how your presentation will help them to solve it.
Avoid lecturing your audience. Help you audience to feel that you are in it together. If they sense that you are empathetic, positive, and reasonable in your expectations, they will quickly warm up to you.
Avoid using slang, bad taste jokes, and unfamiliar jargon, especially you’re your superiors are listening.
People size others up quickly. Get your presentation of to the best start by dressing and grooming appropriately, watching your body language, avoiding hackneyed introductions, and helping your audience feel that you identify with them.