Oct 29, 2014
Presentation Effectiveness For All
We are such a judgmental lot aren’t we! We form opinions about people within seconds of seeing them, often even before we hear them speak. We judge their dress, their body language, their style without knowing anything about them as a person. We are slow to unwind our first impression as well, so those first seconds of any interaction are vital.
We are all critics too, when it comes to presentations. We want the best, we want to be educated, entertained, wowed in our seats and we are usually disappointed. We carry that history of disappointment around with us like heavy baggage, to the next presentation. We shamelessly hold others to a level of accountability, we never wish imposed upon us!
The cold, hard reality is that Presentation Effectiveness can be a make or break skill in the workplace. At some point in your career you will be asked to present information to a group. It doesn't have to be a formal occasion. It might just mean answering a question or being invited to express a view or opinion. It is your job to ensure that you are ready to step up to the call. An individual who can present confidently and effectively immediately differentiates themselves from the rest of the group. Whether you are a pro or a beginner with presenting or public speaking, here are some practical tips for improving your presentation and communications skills.
Getting Rid of the Stress of Public Speaking
Many people are terrified of speaking in front of a group. Everyone is staring at you, your palms are sweating, your pulse is racing, strangely your throat feels suddenly dry and parched, your energy levels have dropped to precipitous levels, your knees might even be knocking as the fight or flight adrenalin kicks in.
Many of us can accomplish pulling off a presentation, but feel a certain amount of fear and stress. Speaking in front of groups does not have to be stressful or nerve racking; instead, the experience can help you stand out and get noticed.
Here are some tips that will help you fight through your anxiety and deliver an effective presentation:
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
If you have a complete understanding of your material, it will definitely give you an advantage during your presentation. However, do not feel you have to memorize your material; you just need to be familiar with it.
You can read key points as mental prompts to help you keep the flow going in the best order, but don’t read it if you can avoid it. Many people are wedded to their text. They spend the entire time making eye contact with their own words on the sheet in front of them, rather than with their audience and then wonder why nobody was impressed with their presentation. Look at your audience – talk to them as if it was fireside chat, be relaxed and engage with everyone. I recall a brilliant lecture I attended at Harvard Business School, as part of an Executive Education Programme. One of the Professors had written down a list of 10 words on the back wall behind the audience. This was his 3 hour lecture presented entirely without any visible notes. A list of key words you talk to can be your presentation too or you might use the slide deck as the navigation to move your talk along.
Open with Confidence.
Here is a big secret - only you know you are terrified. Unless you tell us, we will imagine you are competent, after all that is what we are expecting. Japan of course, loves to start a presentation with an apology, often mentioning what a hopeless speaker the individual is. No, no, no! If you are sick don’t tell us. If you are nervous don’t tell us. If you are sad because your cat died, don’t tell us. Don’t say anything about how you feel, because then the focus is on you and not where it should be - on your audience. Work the room instead – focus outward not inward.
Your opening gives your audience a first impression of your presentation. Make sure not to leave anything to chance. Your opening sets the tone for your entire presentation. No ums and ahs please!
Here is how to avoid the usual speaker opening kicking off with hesitation in the form of Ums and Ahs.
Select the first word of each sentence and hit it. Purse your lips once that sentence is completed and then hit the next sentence’s first word. Once you finish the sentence purse your lips again. Keep doing this and hesitancy and timidity will disappear from your image as a speaker.
Also lift your speaking volume up to about 30%-50% higher than in normal conversation. This is not a normal conversation, so it needs a different approach. Stronger volume communicates greater confidence (even if you don’t have any!). You usually have microphones so you don’t have to shout but lift your energy.
If you have a reasonably strong voice and it is a small gathering, dispense with the microphone, so that your hands are free for using gestures.
Focus on a Few Key Points.
Know the major points you want to make. This will help ease your worry and increase your confidence. You should also use electronic visuals, note cards, or memory techniques to outline your key concepts. If you need some prompts then prepare them. If you are using a teleprompter make sure you can carry on without it.
Famous Hollywood Director Michael Bay just got started on his Samsung sponsored public presentation in Las Vegas, when the teleprompter failed and in short order so did he. You can see the disaster unfold on YouTube – it’s sad to watch.
Remember, the powerpoint, the flip chart, the teleprompter are all secondary to you – you are the message. Importantly, only Michael Bay and the host on stage knew what he was going to say that day but by abruptly walking off stage in shamed, burning silence he said to the entire audience that he had forgotten his message, that he failed. He could have carried on with his thoughts and we would never have known it wasn’t the intended content.
Support Ideas with Evidence.
It is always important to provide evidence to support your main points. Supporting evidence will help your audience understand your points and will give you a chance to explain your points more fully. Point-evidence; point-evidence; point-evidence is the way to go. Just because you say it doesn't mean we believe it is true. Prove it!
Close with a Call to Action.
This will be the last impression your audience has of you and your presentation. It is important to ensure the closing reflects the purpose of the presentation. Your closing should summarize your content and give your audience a clear direction.
Don’t forget that you must repeat your close again, after the end of Q&A. Most people lose control of the proceedings when they get to Q&A and many a meltdown has been witnessed at this vital last impression juncture.
Don’t allow someone’s random question content to define your final impression or final message for the audience. I remember I was giving a presentation in Japanese, to an audience of HR professionals about how great Dale Carnegie training was and teaching them how to use some of the key human relations principles.
It was going gangbusters until we got to the Q&A. This very charming, well dressed Japanese lady in her early 70s put her hand up to ask a question and for the next 10 minutes launched into her own speech!
You must stay in command of the messaging and so the show ain’t over until you sing the last line of the wrap up after Q&A. Repeat your close so the last message they get is the one you want them to get. This is the mark of the pro!
So key points to remember about getting rid of the stress of public speaking:
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Open with Confidence
Focus on a Few Key Points
Support Ideas with Evidence
Close with a Call to Action