Were you giving a presentation on 1 July 2015 - the hottest July day since records began? When external conditions are extreme or distracting can you automatically adjust the temperature of your presentation to keep your audience listening?
It’s a tough call to compete for attention when the alternatives are day dreams of sunbathing, the drama at Wimbledon or a desperate desire to get out of a stuffy meeting room and stand close to a supermarket chiller cabinet.
In these circumstances it’s time both to read your audience and get creative.
There is no point deluding yourself that your audience will be willing to read a deck of 50 slides, however much time you’ve spent creating them. Be ruthless with your editing. Reduce the number of words on your slides. Reduce the number of slides to the minimum.
On a hot day people simply won’t give you their maximum attention. You need absolute clarity on the key points you need to get across. This is probably not the day for fine detail or added extras. Focus on the one key message you want your audience to appreciate.
Forget the presentation slides completely. Take your audience by surprise and talk to them without the aid of technology. You have the immediate bonus that switching off the equipment will make the room less hot. You will also have the element of surprise which will gain you more attention.
You can’t change the weather but you can use the reality of the situation to bring humour into your opening remarks. If everyone is thinking about the heat, or worrying that the transport system is in meltdown it’s best to acknowledge this and use it to a humorous advantage.
Be a storyteller
When you’re hot and bothered it’s hard to focus on complex facts and figures. Make it easy for your audience by illustrating key points with short, punchy stories. You’ll get fewer tetchy questions. Your audience will benefit from getting your message in an instantly accessible way.
You know your clients. If their offices are not state-of-the-art do what you can to make your audience comfortable. No air-con? Or even worse the air-con has broken down? This happened to me once. We opened windows and doors of our meeting room. We open the windows and door of the room across the corridor. It did help air flow.
Make sure there is plenty of cold water in the room. If you’re passing a supermarket buy a bag of ice!
It could be because you thought of bringing ice…It could also be because you’ve demonstrated your ability to respond to your audience’s needs. You’ve edited your presentation, used anecdotes and made your points with clarity, power and humour. With this combination your audience will be able to instantly recall you and your message in a positive light.
When the heat is on success is measured by being memorable.
By Dorothea Stuart, member of Toastmasters International, nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. There are nearly 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7000 members. Find your local club.