I’m in the first semester of my doctoral program. There are 6 of us from all over the country who attend class virtually each Monday night. Early in the semester, we lamented about the things we miss due to the online format of our program—those casual moments walking in from the parking lot, chatting during a classroom break, or grabbing dinner together after class. I’ll call them the “in between” moments. It’s the important stuff that happens when the important stuff isn’t happening.
These “in between” moments are valuable for speakers, too. If you’ve been asked to give a presentation, the audience doesn’t only watch and listen while you are speaking. They are constantly forming opinions about you. Here are a few ways you can capitalize on those “in between” moments to shape your ethos (your credibility in the eyes of your audience).
Before the Presentation
Everything from what time you arrive to your demeanor when the audience first sees you is under scrutiny. Dr. Nicholas Rule, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto says, “As soon as one sees another person, an impression is formed. This happens so quickly — just a small fraction of a second — that what we see can sometimes dominate what we know.” His research shows that our initial impressions are so incredibly powerful, they might even trump facts.
That proves what we already know: first impressions matter. So allow yourself to build ethos from the get-go by showing up early and interacting warmly with those in the room while you get set up. If you’ve had a stressful day, don’t bring that into your presentation environment. And don’t make excuses for poor planning or behavior. That’s one of the quickest ways to alienate your audience and harm your ethos.
During Presentation Breaks
If you have breaks during your presentation, you should plan to use those times strategically. What you do when you aren’t speaking matters, so take time to talk to audience members who linger around during breaks. If people don’t approach you, plan to have a few relevant questions ready to ask them. You might want to check out this list of 25 questions from Inc.com aimed at strengthening work relationships. And the conversations that happen in those “in between” moments doesn’t have to be solely about the organization or the presentation. In an interview for Harvard Business Review, John M. Gottman, executive director of the Relationship Research Institute, says that when we have small conversations with coworkers and colleagues, it’s like we are saying, “’Hey, I like you. I notice you independent of your position.’ Within organizations, people have to see each other as human beings or there will be no social glue.”
So use these breaks to show your authentic interest in your audience. So much of communication centers around the relationship built between the communicators. If you’ve gotten to know someone during a break, they will enter the next part of your presentation with greater interest because you’ve connected with them.
After the Presentation
Build into your schedule some time following your presentation to linger and talk with audience members who might have questions or want more information. A speaker who rushes out might seem dismissive. Remember that your presentation doesn’t really end until all of your audience members are gone. You continue to persuade them and communicate with them as long as you are around.
I saw an example of how quickly ethos can deflate when I was a graduate student. I had attended a conference in which the keynote speaker was incredibly charismatic and engaging. I had enjoyed his presentation very much. However, as I lingered outside the auditorium after the presentation chatting with a friend, I heard the speaker rudely address the event organizer and some of her staff. At that moment, nothing he said mattered anymore because his character had cast a shadow on his content.
Who we are and what we say are linked in the minds of our audience members. For the most part, they find out what we have to say during our presentation, but they find out who we are during the “in betweens.” Make sure you use these important moments to enhance your ethos which will in turn enhance your presentation.
For more ways to build your ethos and become a master presenter, register now for our online presentation skills course.
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