8 Characteristics of a Captivating Presenter

Every time I ask a group of workshop participants to name the characteristics of a successful presenter, I am struck by the number of characteristics that start with the letter “C.” Let’s look at some of these characteristics to see how many you already possess, and which ones you might want to concentrate on as you build your capacity for continued success in speaking.

By the way, in almost every case, people name “confidence” first, so let’s start with that.

1. Confidence. Build your confidence from the inside out by managing nervousness, and turning it to power. Build your confidence from the outside in by fine-tuning your delivery skills. Powerful stance, steady eye contact, a relaxed face; these are typically seen as confidence.

In addition, work on your mental focus; by being in command of your thoughts you will be more fluent, and there will be fewer hesitations and fillers in your speech.

2. Connection with the audience. This one is so important that, if you don’t do anything else, do all you can to make that connection. We do this by thinking about the audience, learning about them, and relating our content to them. We do it by actually caring about them and wanting to give them something of value. We don’t waste their time with a wishy-washy, wordy mishmash of a presentation.

We can also connect with our audience by moving away from the lectern or avoiding any other barriers. By moving closer to them. By making direct eye contact with them, one person at a time. And not by just talking at them, but by engaging them in dialog. That means asking questions and listening to their concerns and points of view.

3. Calm. The best presenters have a sense of ease about them. You see it on their faces, in their gestures and body language, and in their words. They seem comfortable in their own skins. They don’t rush. They allow pauses. They know what they are doing. That calms the audience. They have a sense of calm commitment that draws the audience in without screaming. Their calm is focused and somehow energized from within.

To find your sense of ease and calm, aim for having a sparkle in your eyes, a gesture that spontaneously makes your point, and vocal white space – significant pauses – in your speech.

4. Content. Great presenters always appear prepared and knowledgeable about their subject matter. They speak with a message. They tell a story. Great presentations are so much more than a list of bullet points, or carefully organized data. They start with a clear and compelling message. They contain data, of course, but they move beyond merely facts to explanation, interpretation, motivation. They present case studies, stories, discussion, examples that illuminate. Each part of the presentation moves the message forward. Each slide illustrates the story visually and is there for a purpose. The ending wraps everything up in a cohesive way and circles back to the message stated at the beginning.

5. Courage. It takes a certain amount of courage to be a super presenter. It is far safer to plant yourself behind the lectern and read your slides than it is to say what you really think and feel. But who would you rather listen to? The truly great speakers always move you; to change your mind, to support the change, to make a decision, or to feel something. That takes risk, and risking in front of an audience takes courage. Start small, but take a risk next time you speak. All it takes is courage.

6. Charisma/Charming. Why charm your audience? And…how do your charm an audience? Well, your audience doesn’t want to be put to sleep, they want to be charmed. They want to be engaged. They want to feel something. So, talk about them, show them you understand them and their concerns, put them first, give them solutions, ask their opinion, show them your humanity and your humor.  Be real with them. Now, that’s charming.

7. Command the room. No you don’t have to be a sergeant major, but you can't let your audience walk all over you either. Move with purpose, speak with confidence, keep an eye on people, and engage them in a discussion. If you are losing their attention, don’t just plough through the rest of your prepared comments. Stop. Pause. Ask a question, a real one. Listen. Adapt. Turn a potential disaster to a success.

8. Control Q&A. The question and answer segment of your presentation can be a great opportunity to highlight and reinforce what you have already said—or an awkward defense of your key points. To take control, first ask for questions, “Now, what questions can I answer for you?” is stronger than “does anyone have any questions?” After you ask, stop talking, make steady eye contact with a few people, and wait. Chances are you will get a question. When you do, answer it briefly, and then turn to another part of the room and ask, “Next?” or “Next question?”  Wait again. After you have answered an appropriate number of questions, or if time is up, launch the final question by stating, “We have time for one more question, and if I didn’t get to yours, please email me (or come speak to me) so I can answer it.” Answer the last question, hopefully a good one, and then say thank you with a note of finality.  

Of all these “C” characteristics we have discussed, which ones appeal to you? Which ones do you feel are most important? And what other “C” words would you add to the list? Please send me a note and let me know what you think.