How To Present In A Duo Or Group

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One of my favorite things about my job as a public speaking and presentation instructor is that I get to mentor students during the first draft of their Final Project presentations.  These dress rehearsals are often a hot mess, and some of this can be attributed to the large group (4 to 6 students) involved in presenting.

Presenting in a group is challenging.  It’s almost always going to feel awkward to stand in a group in front of people, to hand off the speaking role between members of the group, and to get that seamless look and feel.  However, just like with presentations featuring a solo speaker, a group presentation will be successful if the presenters make the unnatural feel natural.

The first TED speech I’ve ever seen with more than one presenter is called “Two young scientists break down plastics with bacteria.”  Speakers Miranda Wang and Jeanny Yao are seniors in high school, but their preparation and practice show wisdom beyond their years.  Take a look at their teamwork below:

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Three tips will help you and your team present together successfully.  First, mirror the behavior you want to see in your audience.  Though it’s difficult to get a sense of this in the TED video because of cutaways to the Prezi and close-ups on the individual speaker, you can see examples of mirroring in the first 30 seconds; from 3:53 to 4:08; and at around the 5:00 mark.  So what, exactly, is mirroring, and how can you do it in your next group presentation?

As a presenter, you can mirror the emotions, reactions, expressions, and body language that you want to see in your audience.  If you are a member of a duo or a group, it’s essential that you mirror the behavior you want to see from your audience.  For example, Jeanny looks at Miranda when Miranda speaks, she nods her head and smiles at Miranda.  Miranda physically turns her body toward Jeanny when Jeanny is speaking.  These behaviors are important because the audience will take a cue for how to react to the speaker by looking at the other presenters, too.

I’ve seen groups of presenters where, after handing off the speaking role or the clicker to the next person, a student will sit down, start flipping through his phone, or turn away uninterested.  If the members of the group aren’t displaying positive listening behaviors, how will the audience react?  Will the audience shut down, too?  Will the audience stop taking the group seriously?  It is so important to remember that whether or not you are speaking, the audience can still see you, and they will still evaluate you as a part of the overall presentation.  If you’re “over it,” uninterested, or busy on your phone, the audience senses and sees that negativity.

Second, ensure an equal amount of speaking time.  The back and forth Miranda and Jenny show in their TED Talk really is the best way, as the presentation looks natural, conversational, and effortless.  Another strategy is to break the speech into two or more sections and have a presenter cover each section.  The problem with the “section” method is that with a group of three or more people, the audience doesn’t hear from some group members until the middle or even the end of the presentation.  Additionally, with the “section” method, group members typically spend solo time working on their section without considering the presentation as a whole, and this is a recipe for disaster.  Sectioning can be very dangerous if group members don’t communicate with one another during that preparation and planning stage.

Consider where a back-and-forth method or a section method works best for the type of presentation you’re delivering.  Examine your audience, the type of speech you’re presenting, and your content before making this decision.

Third, practice 5 to 10 times more than you would with a solo speech.  I can’t tell you how many group presentations have gone over on time or have gone down in flames because of ONE group member.  Wrangling the entire group together to practice, practice, practice will ensure the fate of the presentation doesn’t hinge on that one jerk who loves to hear himself talk or that one prima donna who plans to do her own thing no matter what the group thinks.  Practicing together will ensure the group thinks of itself as a unit, which is hugely important with a team presentation.

Again, remember the problems of that sectioning method… All too often I see students prepare and practice their section and then arrive on speech day never having practiced as a group.  Why would you EVER do that?!

Finally, consider Andrew Dlugan’s “How To Deliver Group Presentations: The Unified Team Approach.”  Dlugan gives amazing advice, as always, on public speaking with a group.

What advice would you give to presenters in a duo or a group?

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