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Are you bringing the light?

Are you bringing the light?

Imagine the photo attached to this article without any light. Firstly, it would be pretty damn scary for the people in the hot air balloon! Secondly, it would make for a very boring photo. As humans, we are subconsciously drawn toward contrast, therefore we need light to balance the shade. It's a shame then, that most presentations are devoid of it. If you want to up your presentation game and be more engaging, then carry on reading and I'll share with you a few ways in which you can bring a bit of light into your presentations. Trust me, your audiences will appreciate it!

We're not talking literally are we?
No, we're not. Whilst it's probably not a good idea to make your presentation in the dark, this is about what you say and how you say it. It's about bringing a counterpoint to either your content or your delivery style. A fantastic example of this is President Obama's recent speech about Ellen DeGeneres. If you haven't seen it yet then check it out here (it's only 2 minutes long, but is a mini masterclass!):

President Obama speech

As you can see, Obama is talking about a serious issue with passion and sincerity, and then a minute in he brings a bit of levity in the form of an Ellen quote, and even says he wanted to break the mood as he was getting choked up. Far from detracting from his important message, the laughter it brings displays the very thing that he's honouring Ellen for - her ability to bring light. It also provides a lovely memorable moment, and is quite likely one of the reasons the video is now doing the rounds on social media. If it was just a heartfelt speech then of course it would still have been good, but the couple of moments of levity make it great.

So do I have to be funny to bring the light?
Again, the answer is no. Don't get me wrong, if you know you're a naturally funny person, and there's a little humorous story or example you can use which is relevant to what you're talking about, then go for it - as we saw with Obama it's probably one of the best ways to bring contrast in the moment. However, it's not the only way, so don't worry if humour doesn't come naturally to you.

What can I do then?
As I mentioned earlier, it's really all about making sure you have contrast, and there's a multitude of ways in which we can do that. Below are a few to get you started, but this is definitely not an exhaustive list:

  • Vary your pace. If you know you speak quite quickly then when you get to important points, slow right down and leave a pause. On the other hand if you speak with a very measured pace, every now and then speed things up a bit.
  • Vary your volume. I'm not saying you should start shouting (although this would capture people's attention!), but again speaking softly in places and then adding a bit of volume in others (where appropriate) should keep your audience's attention.
  • Vary your tone. This is a biggie. Make sure you have plenty of intonation in your voice. Nothing sends people to sleep quicker than the monotone deliverer! If you need examples of what good looks like, watch the news. Newsreaders are masters at using intonation to keep our attention. Whilst we don't need to go that far, having a practise beforehand (and ideally record yourself), and then reviewing how you sounded would be a wise idea.
  • Smile more. So often I see people make presentations and they get to a lovely bit where they're reviewing successes or saying something really positive, and yet their face doesn't seem to have got the message! It's often caused by nerves, but if you're talking about something positive please make sure to genuinely smile. When you do your audience will tend to smile with you, and if you don't smile when you're saying something positive it's just a bit weird!
  • Keep switching your focus from the present to the future (from is to what could be). The best presenters and speakers in the world all do this. They don't just paint a picture of doom and gloom (sadly this is often when describing the present), they invariably intersperse the hard to hear with a positive future vision of where we could be if we change. This use of contrast is very powerful, and if done well will keep your audience on the edge of their seats waiting to hear how to get to this better place. The trick is to always finish on the positive, so that your audience are left feeling empowered.

I'm sure you can think of plenty of other ways to bring some contrast to what you're speaking about. There are no limitations on this so just try some things out and see what works. We just need to remind ourselves that without the light, things would be pretty boring, and of course without the shade, we'd all need some seriously good sunglasses or else we'd be blinded! Aim for both and you'll be all set.