Tips for Thinking on Your Feet

If you really aware and alert, your audience's behavior - faces, bodies, and their hands, will literally transmit scores of "messages." It is possible to judge how well you're being received, how much attention your audience is paying to you, and often how close your objective is to accomplishment. For example, shuffling feet, yawns, general restlessness, glances at watches -- or rapt attentiveness -- all are things which should be consciously noted by the trainer. Some trainers ramble on despite every audience indicator telling them that the audience considers the presentation over. It is far better to call an unscheduled break and regroup forces than it is to continue without audience feedback.

Never pretend that things aren't happening. Since audience attention is directly affected by such factors as ventilation, temperature, lighting, acoustics, external disturbances, interruptions, visual aid equipment failure, late arrivals and early departures, the obvious answer to coping with most of these factors is to check in advance. Thorough preparation in handling the unexpected will sidestep distractions which impede the ability to analyze audience feedback. Your confidence, ingenuity, alertness, and showmanship will enable you to make a strong presentation.

Handle environmental distractions matter-of-factly, as a part of a real-life environment, without letting it interfere with the business at hand. If a microphone goes dead, raise your own volume or move closer to your audience. There are few rooms in which a person cannot be heard if they try. It is unlikely that well maintained visual-aid equipment will break down if checked and previewed just before a presentation, but if it does, it doesn't have to be a catastrophe. A good trainer knows what his or her own visuals contain and should be able to improvise if necessary. Podium samples that reiterate usually will save you if you have provided for them in advance.

When facing unexpected problems due to the setting of your presentation, take the event and use it -- build it into the presentation on the spot, if it contributes to your objective or a point you want to make. Such action adds a note of spontaneity and reality to the presentation, if it is done smoothly and appropriately. After all, it is a real-life situation, so why not treat it as such? Many training presentations are far too formal to begin with. Although they are really conversations among people, more often than not they sound like recitations or readings. You can do worse than behave spontaneously and naturally.

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CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates, Boston, MA., a comprehensive organization which offers over 40 skills based management training programs. Mr. Schwartz conducts over 150 programs annually for clients in industry, research, technology, government, Fortune 100/500 companies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. He is often found at conferences as a key note presenter and/or facilitator. His style is fast-paced, participatory, practical, and humorous. He has authored over 65 books and products, and taught/lectured at over a dozen colleges and universities throughout the United States.

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