by Courtney Kaplan
This post was originally shared in our Remote Confidence newsletter (ran April – May 2020).
I want to share an approach that has been more enriching and less stressful for me when I’m asked to present to groups remotely.
Shift the approach from presentation to “conversation”. I changed my approach from “perfect tactical presentation” to a strategy of “creating an ongoing conversation” with my audience. I have a series of conversations with my intended audience members before the scheduled presentation date to gather more context about my topic and its relevance for my audience. By holding a more natural conversation with them instead of presenting to them, I can also listen to their reflections about my talk to understand how it lands. So what does it mean to implement this strategy of practicing your talk through ongoing conversation?
1. Practice with small groups instead of one listener at a time. Consider this a small group user testing or holding a mini-focus group. Approach rehearsal with the spirit of conversation and ease. I’m always pleasantly surprised about how eager most people are to hear a preview presentation and give their support. Practicing with a small group mimics the dynamics of a larger audience. This rehearsal is less about “nailing it perfectly” and more about checking to see how it lands with a group.
2. Ask for both feedback and reflections. We’re used to asking for tactical feedback about how to improve (talk more slowly, change a slide). We aren’t as practiced in asking for audience reflections. Does your talk resonate? What questions come up for them? Is your talk causing your audience to think? Does your speaking convey the right mood? Where should you push further in your talk and where should you edit? How are you landing with the audience? Have a conversation with your test audience not only about feedback but about their reflections and response to you.
3. Bring a sense of conversation to the presentation. Using rehearsals as conversations with your target audience in each stage of your talk development will help you build confidence and also better understand how you can expect to connect to the audience. These preparatory conversations will bring more nuance and more context, as well as allowing you to focus on the parts of your presentation that resonate most with your audience.
This shift has helped me build confidence, address anticipated questions, and create messages that landed more effectively. Certainly, having a spirit of authority about your topic matters, but being able to embody conversational ease allows you to relax and better engage with the audience even over video. And, personally, I like knowing I have a few fans in the Zoom void that helped me prepare and are silently cheering me on.
Idea for Action: Before your next presentation, make a list of a few people who will be in the audience that you can reach out to in advance. Schedule time to start a conversation with them before your presentation date.
About the Author: Courtney Kaplan is a coach, facilitator, and consultant partnering with clients as they work through big changes. She has 20+ years of design experience across large companies, design agencies, and startups. Most recently, she founded the Design Program Management discipline at Facebook.
Connect with Courtney Kaplan through her website, LinkedIn, Medium.