Conversational Presenting

by Olivia Mitchell

It’s easier to listen to somebody when they’re speaking in a conversational manner. This is intuitive but also backed up by research by Richard Mayer and others (there’s a nice summary of the research at the Creating Passionate Users blog). Research by Mayer showed that people learnt more when a computer-based educational game was conversational in style (Mayer calls this personalized), as opposed to formal in style. When tested on the content, they scored significantly more:

So when you’re presenting, use your natural conversational style. Here are some tips to achieve this:

  • Always be talking to someone – you may think this is obvious, but how many presenters have you seen that are talking to the PowerPoint screen, to their notes or to the back of the room.
  • Talk to one person at a time – spend a few moments with this person. It shouldn’t be so long that they risk feeling intimidated, but long enough that they do feel as if you have been talking to them. This will normally be the length of a phrase, or a short sentence.
  • Imagine that you’re having a one-on-one conversation with that person. Let the other people in the room disappear from your consciousness for that time.
  • Look for their reaction to what you’re saying before you carry on. Most people will nod or smile.
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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Fuszard July 7, 2012 at 8:20 am

Good suggestions, Olivia, though a slight caution about your second point. You don’t want the presenter to “lock on” to an audience member. Eye contact, as you know, should be uniform.

However, your overall concept is sound. Presenters should strive for a friendly conversation with the audience. (Especially during small-group seminars and workshops.) No need to get stiff and formal about it. Both the audience and presenter benefit when the presenter is relaxed.

Much of the stiffness could be caused by nervousness. The cure for that, of course, is experience.


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