Telltales are made up of two strands of yarn, the least expensive gear on a sailboat. This yarn is critical to a sailor’s health and well-being. Look up at your jib sail and the telltales indicate whether you are managing conditions and course efficiently, or not. They accurately tell you how the wind is flowing over your sail. If they are both streaming aft, your boat and the wind are in tune.
Presenters need to have their own telltales, which allow you to make subtle adjustments as conditions alter. The worlds of medicine and business are given to dynamic change, similar to the San Francisco Bay. Audiences are also prone to chilly fogs, dangerous eddies and rip currents that will test your ability to respond.
As you speak, be alert to audience signs of disengagement or discomfort. As interest flags, listeners get quiet and restive. When this happens, change course by going black on your PowerPoint and adding an anecdote. If you see people shifting in their seats, change your pacing or go low-tech with a whiteboard or visual. Run a quiz or take a poll. Attentive presenters keep their telltales in view to stay nimble and on course.