From several years of experience, I know that many people hate presenting. More often than not, they’re more concerned with surviving, than doing a good job. In truth, they think they’ve done a good job if they have talked for their allotted time and gotten the words out in the right order. The fact that their lifeless, monotone presentation is boring and totally irrelevant to their audience is beside the point. The fact that the audience did not listen to a word they said, didn’t learn anything nor catch the main messages doesn’t matter either. The fact that they gave a poor impression of their company or didn’t get the work for which they were pitching doesn’t matter, just as long as they got through it in one piece.
When fear gets in the way
Fear often causes many people to do everything they can to avoid presentations. The big problem is that presentations are an integral part of today’s business world, so it’s virtually impossible to evade them for long, especially if career progression is on their agenda. What then happens is that – like anything that is not done very often – they become so out-of-practice that they are bad.
Another big problem is that people tell themselves that they can’t present. What this means is that they’ve resigned themselves to the fact that they’re just not good at delivering presentations, and so they continue doing what they’ve always done and hope that they will somehow magically get better. Sadly, this is not going to be the case. Einstein captured what I’d like to say the best: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome”.
Presenting is a skill
Despite these things, all is not lost because presenting is a skill and so it can be learnt – by anyone. Of course, there will always be those more naturally talented than others, like with any skill, but over the last 14 years, I have taught even the most boring or terrified presenters to become good, and some even great. And some have even gone onto enjoy it. The secret is knowing what to do, and how to do it, together with lots of practise, practise and practise.
I taught someone recently who was due to deliver a thirty minute presentation to a large group of senior executives. He was someone who considered himself ‘a boring presenter with a boring topic’. After doing my one day course, I asked him how he got on. He replied:
“The presentation went really well thanks! I got really good feedback and the clients were really interested. One of them actually said that they thought I should have had a longer slot! I then presented the same material at a client meeting today and they said they thought I had been efficient in getting the message across.”
You can do it
The following outlines what you can do, and how you can do it so that – no matter your mind-set or current ability – you know that it is possible for anyone to deliver a quality presentation that can engage any audience with any topic.
Business is about people. Companies do not do business with other companies. People from one company do business with people from another company. And in most situations, it is the people that is the winning factor. This is particularly true in the service sector where technical expertise offered by competing companies is indistinguishable.
What this means is that when you present, you need to be yourself. When the presentation is over, the audience must want to do business with you. If you make your presentation too formal and your presentation style too robotic or impersonal, then you will not come over well.
How you do this is through understanding what qualities make you the person you are, and how you can highlight these – even when you feel nervous – in a way that creates positive impact and engagement with the audience.
Focus Your Presentation
For every presentation you create, you must focus it appropriately, which means knowing why you’re doing the presentation (and challenging yourself whether a presentation is the best way to communicate your message), who your audience is, and what you want to achieve as a result of delivering the presentation.
The question you must ask yourself before you start writing anything is: ‘What do I want the specific audience to do, think, feel or say as a result of listening to my presentation?’ Then when you know why you’re presenting and who you are presenting to, you need to work out what your key messages are. Once you know what these are, you can categorise your material into what’s essential, and what’s desirable.
Structuring Your Presentation
Next, like any good story, your presentation should have three parts: a beginning, a middle and an end.
In addition to creating an impactful introduction, you need to consider the way you are going to move from point to point in the middle part of your presentation. This is because human beings have extremely short-term memories – about seven things at any one time – and so during your presentation you need to be careful not to overload them with too much information. One way to do this is to repeat and emphasise the main points you want them to know. You do this by breaking your talk into its component parts by using a signpost and by moving in a very precise way from point to point. Finally, you need to finish your talk with a powerful finish which leaves the audience doing, thinking or saying what you want them to do, think or say.
Bringing your material alive
Some people have a preference for visual learning, others for auditory and others for kinaesthetic. So to ensure that you are engaging all of your audience and helping them to understand your key messages, you need to make sure that you give them the information in the way that they can easily understand it. You can use PowerPoint slides or flipcharts to help visual people in the audience to learn, you can help those with an auditory preference by simply talking to them, and you can tell stories, give vivid examples, anecdotes and case studies as well as ask questions for kinaesthetic learners in your audience. The key is to learn how to use visual aids, how to talk and how to tell stories in an engaging and impactful way that favours your personality.
There is no quick fix
I’m afraid that there isn’t a quick fix for presentations, nor is there one thing that is going to make you love presenting. You might never learn to enjoy it but you most certainly can learn to become good. There is no single thing that turns a poor presentation into a great presentation. There are many techniques, each of which add a few percentage points to the quality of your presentation. Individually, they may seem insignificant but together they have a cumulative effect. If you learn them all, and practice them, then anyone can become a good speaker, instead of a survivor.
If you would like your team to be able to deliver great presentations, book my Pitched-Perfect Presentations course.