Eyes Up for Better Presentations

As teachers, many of us are helping our students to make presentations. Whether it is a simple show-and-tell in a kids’ class or an advanced presentation of fluid dynamics by an aerodynamics PhD candidate, some of the basic principles are exactly the same. I know very well because I have taught in both of these situations and beneath the very different content and language level is the basic need for good  human interaction.

And besides helping your students make better presentations, it is also useful thinking about how you can make your own presentations better. After all, as a teacher you are actually presentations every single day that you walk into a classroom and stand in front of your students.

When I was doing an NLP course in California at NLPU a few years ago, we had a guest trainer called Michael Colgrass. Michael is a successful composer as well as a trainer, so he knows a few things about dealing with an audience.

Michael Colgrass teaches people how to walk on to a stage using what he calls the “Eyes Up” technique. It’s very simple. Keep your eyes up as you are walking on to the stage and keep looking at the audience.

But it begins before you ever walk onto the stage.

Your presentation begins the moment that your name is called or the moment that you stand up to walk towards the front of the room, or perhaps earlier. That is the moment when people begin to watch you.

After this moment, the space in the room is your space. The time for the presentation is your time. And as you walk to the stage, you need to be aware that people’s eyes are already on you and that they are already judging your performance in the presentation.

So how do you prepare for all this attention. A key factor is to be in a good state, i.e. confident and ready. One good way to do that is simply to take a few deep breaths. Some presenters have a little mantra that they say to themselves to get ready, e.g. “I am ready…they are going to love me, I am ready…they are going to love me.” Some people like to stretch. It doesn’t really matter what your routine is–the point is that it should be a routine, something that you practice and can then reliably do in order to enter that state of confidence and readiness before that magic moment when you stand up.

And after standing up, what’s next? You walk towards that stage or the front of the room, with your body erect and your head held high. Of course, you should be “eyes up”, noticing the people around you and staying in your good state.

If there are steps to the stage, be sure that you have already visualized and figured out how you are going to climb them while still keeping your eyes up.

And then once you are on the stage, walk to the center, and make the space into your space. For the length of the presentation, it is your space!

When you begin, make eye contact with the whole room. Make sure that you look at everyone or at least at each section of the room. Strong eye contact at the beginning can make a connection that can strengthen your whole presentation as well as giving both you and the audience the confidence that you can do a great job.

You will probably use notes or slides or similar throughout  your presentation. That is fine–in that case, you probably won’t have your eyes on the audience the whole time.

But do remember to check back in with them. Words are important, but there are few things that can make a connection in communication as strongly as the human eyes.

The content of your presentation is important, and I’m sure that you spend lots of time preparing it to make sure that it is as good as possible. Language, however, can be regarded as either transactional or interactional. Transactional language is used to communicate information. Interactional language is used to strengthen or change the social relationships between people in a group. A presentation is both transactional and interactional.

So, of course your content is important (transactional language), but it is also vital to remember that you are presenting yourself (interactional language) and your image in front of the audience is extremely important.

Ghandi said “My life is my message.” By this, he meant that his whole life and way of presenting himself to the world was congruent with the content that he was conveying.

In your presentations or when you are helping your students make better presentations, aim for congruence. Think about your use of words, gestures, voice, eyes, use of space, and visuals. They are all important in helping you to really connect to your audience.

And if you want to hear the important message of this article one more time: Eyes Up!


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