What makes a great presenter? Why is it that some people can hold a group’s attention so easily and others are so boring? Are the best public speakers simply born that way or are there techniques which all of us can learn? And if they can be learnt, what are these techniques which can make our presentations more focused, interesting and persuasive?
I used to hate speaking in front of a group. I found it a very scary and intimidating experience. The first “speech” I ever gave was back at school when I was just thirteen-years-old. I spoke on the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird aircraft. I remember looking out at their bored, unimpressed faces as I listed all the facts I knew about the Blackbird. That was the only way I knew how to present: just “data dump” everything I knew on the topic.
Nowadays this presentation would be even worse. Now we have… PowerPoint. It is very common not only to see a presenter “data dump” their topic but, and this is super boring, put all the information in text on slides and read out the slides to the group! My school-aged daughters call this (in Dutch) a voorleesfeest (a “reading party)”!
For years I avoided presentations. I felt very uncomfortable in front of a group because I knew that I was boring them! Then I went on a “Speaking with Impact!” course by Remco Claassen. Suddenly I realised what made presentations boring and what made them interesting – and therefore how I could improve!
As the years went by, I started putting these techniques into practice and refining them, while learning more skills from many other great presenters (including my wife, Annelies Robinson). As a result, in my professional life (I’m a software consultant at TMC), I regularly receive compliments on my presentations.
But many of my colleagues in the Eindhoven technical community were still using the “voorlees feest” technique. So I decided to share some of the techniques I had discovered.
I first held a presentation skills evening at TMC. My colleague who organised it said that, within only two hours of sending out the invite, she had to stop people signing up because the room was full! Clearly, this was a popular topic! Some time later I gave a similar talk at ASML (which was recorded and is available online). Again, this was hugely oversubscribed – the ASML auditorium holds 150 people and we had to turn many people away. Apparently, a lot of people in Eindhoven want to improve their public speaking skills.
Then one of my friends saw the presentation I gave and commented that it looked like a TED talk. Coincidentally, TEDxEindhoven was just starting and was about to hold a pitch evening. So I signed up. After successfully pitching to the TEDx jury, I spoke last year on the topic, “How to present to keep your audience’s attention”, a talk which has now a huge number of views and “likes” on the TEDx YouTube channel.
After several successful training sessions in-house at TMC, I took the next logical step and started training as Mark Robinson Training (see markrobinsontraining.com). I train small groups in one day to improve their public speaking abilities. And I have been a coach for this year’s TEDxEindhoven.
In the coming months, I will be sharing a few of the techniques that I practice via Eindhoven News. Please read and share the articles so that the presentations you give – and those you sit through – are far more interesting for their audiences!
Mark Robinson is a senior software engineer at TMC. In addition, he has his own business, Mark Robinson Training, via which he gives workshops, presentations and coaching to help people communicate more effectively to groups. With his engineering background, he is particularly suited to supporting the international, technology community of Eindhoven. He has spoken at TEDxEindhoven in 2016 and is now a TEDxEindhoven speaker coach.
Do you have a presentation question you would like Mark to answer? Send him an email: [email protected]. The best questions will be answered in this column.