Wow, I learned a lot. At last week’s concluding session of SmartTalk – a year-long seminar for professionals who came together monthly to practice and polish their presentation skills – participants were asked, on the spot, to stand up and give a 3-minute talk on something they had learned in SmartTalk. They gave great talks, and it might well be that I learned more from them than they did from me!

So here are my takeaways from their “teachbacks” …

1.  Flipping the switch in your brain to think about your audience – their needs, biases, expectations – may be all you need to do in some cases in order to communicate effectively. The tendency is to think about ourselves – our own needs, biases, expectations – when addressing an audience. But when you’re communicating, it’s simply not all about you, it’s all about them. All the fancy preparation in the world may never beat just empathizing with your audience. Thanks for sharing the stories that illustrated this, SmartTalkers!

2. The disclaimers, explanations, apologies, and self-deprecation that precede many people’s communications – formally at a podium, or when speaking up in a meeting – do nothing but make an audience uncomfortable. Communicating is all about them, your audience, and they expect speakers to be competent, together, successful. So don’t put them on edge by trying to lower the bar for yourself and telling them you’re not 100% prepared or that you’re not very good at this. Instead, make everyone, including yourself, feel good about your presentation. SmartTalkers were compelled to approach the podium saying, “I love doing this!” It made such a difference in their performances. No more sandbagging!

3. Packaging and prioritizing are huge. We all have lots of information to share in meetings and presentations, but unless we package it inside a message – a point that conveys the value, significance, meaning, or context for the info – it can so easily get lost. SmartTalkers definitely learned, and demonstrated, that they know how to pare down information and share it selectively, so that what they say is understood and remembered by their audiences. Yes, there is such a thing as TMI!

Thank you, thank you to all SmartTalk participants, you were awesome! Isn’t it amazing how long 3 minutes can be and how short 9 months can be? Lessons learned indeed.

Beth Levine