Giving a presentation is obviously a wonderful opportunity to create impact.
While many of my clients relish the challenge and are looking for ways to become truly outstanding, a significant minority finds the prospect of presenting, and in particular doing one standing up, pretty daunting. So I don’t think I’ve ever run a workshop on presenting that hasn’t looked at how to harness nerves. And I say ‘harness’ because the energy that adrenaline gives you is a fantastic asset and if you can focus it, it can really lift your performance. This is something that all professional performers know, whether it’s actors, musicians, sportsmen and women, politicians, and there are techniques they use that can really help you make the most of it.
The flip side of the apprehension that almost every presenter feels is that the scariest place in the room – the ‘hot spot’ - is also the most powerful place in the room. It’s when you have everyone’s attention, that you have the opportunity to create real and lasting impact. impact.
Broadly speaking my work on presentations covers two main aspects: the content and the delivery.
It’s essential to get absolutely clear about your message: what do you want your audience to think, how do you want them to feel and what do you want them to do as a result of hearing you speak? Once you have real clarity about this, you can build everything else – the structure, the words you say, any presentation aids you might use like Powerpoint or Prezi – around that core message. So I take people through a process to help them identify the key points they want to make, a process they can use for subsequent presentations.
I don’t believe there’s a right way of delivering a presentation. But there are certain principles and techniques that can enhance the credibility and sense of purpose that’s crucial to influencing and creating impact.
For example, in the opening few seconds your audience subconsciously makes a decision, using System 1, about whether you have anything to offer. Of course this is often the high point of nerves, so many people end up rushing their crucial introduction without having really ‘arrived’. And instead of establishing their credibility, they come across as distant and slightly panicked.
Just taking a few seconds to arrive and greet your audience, perhaps with a smile, can make a huge difference to their engagement with you and your message.
And the best delivery style will always reflect the core message. If you start with a clarity about the impact you want to have on your audience, this sense of purpose will drive all aspects of your communication, from your choice of words to the way you use your voice and your body language. And the heart of a really compelling presentation is unquestionably a connection with an audience: talking to them, not at them.
While a little theory can be enlightening, it’s not necessarily easy to recall as the audience stares at you. As Confucius observed over two thousand years ago “I hear, I forget; I see, I remember; I do, I understand.”. So practice, in a safe environment, is fundamental to improvement.
Like all my work, helping my clients improve their ability to present is very individual. I start by identifying strengths and together we explore how they can be harnessed most effectively. I also encourage people to try out new techniques that complement their existing strengths so that the development is sustainable once they return to the workplace.