By: Meredith Masse
I LOVE the buzz at conferences and large meetings I travel to… lively music playing… the smell of coffee and popcorn intended to keep people alert… attendees chatting, networking and connecting… sleek slides on a continuous loop hyping the best the conference offers… and the anticipation as the music slowly fades and the show begins.
How many have you attended during which, in just a few short minutes, the presentations start only to douse all energy and enthusiasm like a wet blanket over a fire?
How many times does this happen in the presentations you attend within your own organization? The room is humming with hopeful expectation, only to have the leader walk in, white-knuckle the podium and read text-filled slides verbatim to generous eye-rolls and yawns of growing disinterest.
PLEASE: Don’t be that leader. Yes, polishing up your presentation skills MATTERS — whether for all-company events, board meetings or a conversation around the conference table — lest you become known as the sleep-inducing speaker no one wants to suffer through.
The truth is, every professional can benefit from refining presentation skills, whether you are the face of the company at the front desk or sit in a cubical crunching numbers; whether you are out and about in front of external customers daily or serve internal customers fixing their IT problems.
Bottom line: If developing your career is important to you, commit to improving your ability to present effectively.
Presentations come in all shapes and sizes. Your job may require you to deliver company news to a group of colleagues, pitch a business idea, deliver a progress report to your boss or even communicate clearly during a meeting. Here are a few tips to consider when preparing for your next presentation (big or small):
Know who you’re talking to. Nothing will discredit you faster than giving a presentation to an audience you haven’t taken time to get to know in advance. What information is most relevant to them? What do they need to know? What kind of presentation style will they react most favorably to: a talking head with slides or something more interactive?
Know your stuff. First, know your goal. What do you want your audience to do after your presentation? Do you want them to shift their perspectives? Do you simply want to inform and educate? Do you want them to take action? Build your content based on that goal. Then, truly, know your stuff. As soon as you take center stage, whether with a microphone or a telephone, the audience sees you as the expert. Own that! And, practice, practice, practice. Oddly enough, the shorter the time you have to present, the more time you need for practice. Also, plan a powerful opening statement to grab attention. Concisely cover your main point (there may be more than one) to keep attention, and liven up your transitions and closing statement to engrain your message.
Note: If using slides or other similar visuals, think of them as a guide for you versus the carrier of your entire message. Brains are wired to remember pictures, so the more images and fewer words on a screen the more impactful your message.
Know the space. Are you at the front of a long conference table? On stage? Across the desk? Then, use that space to make an impact with body language that complements and reinforces your words. And by all means, if the space includes that awkward piece of presentation paraphernalia, lose the lectern! Clutching a podium or lectern with a death grip is a sure give-away of someone who is not prepared. Remove that barrier if possible to cultivate a stronger connection with your audience, and move around it if not possible to relocate it. Again, be thoughtful about how you want to take advantage of any visual aids and prepare these with the space in mind. 30-point type may be fine for the meeting room, but 72+ will be better for a conference stage.
Know what to work on. Practice in front of trusted advisors who will tell you the truth and can pinpoint your “filler” and “crutch” words like “So…” and “You know?” as well as the ums and uhs. You’ll build instant credibility when you work to eliminate those. Want the truth, whole truth and nothing but the truth about what needs work? Video yourself and watch the playback. This can be tough but worth it.
What other tips have you found to be helpful for mastering presentation skills? Has developing better presentation skills helped you in your professional development? Leave your comments below.
A Powerful Presentation Skills learning path can be included as part of your customizable combination of courses with our Accelerator™ Leadership Development Program for managers and leaders in your organization. Learn more here.