I’ve long held the belief that the most important skill in business is the ability to communicate with confidence, clarity and impact. Life is a 24 hour, 365 days a year conversation. When we are not speaking with colleagues or customers, friends or family, we are speaking with strangers. When we have stopped talking to each of those groups the conversation continues, although now it’s with ourselves.
We never seem to stop talking. Even when we are asleep, we just call it dreaming. Given the fact that we are doing it all the time I believe we owe it to ourselves to get really good at it. It’s not so much what we do that influences how successful we become but how we make the people around us feel. The emotional impact we have on others is largely driven by what we say and how we say it.
Many business presentations are tedious and a great number of people dread the idea of going to them and giving them. Every now and then someone comes along who challenges the status quo, shakes things up and gives a brilliant presentation.
If you would like to be one of those presenters rather than a mediocre one, you are only 5 steps away:
Step 1: Leave the laptop alone, sit quietly and imagine
We are creatures of habit. The way most of us set about crafting and delivering presentations is no exception. The first thing most professionals do when they are called on to present is open up their laptop and find a presentation they used in the past they believe can help them again.
Resist the urge! The laptop stifles your creativity. One of the greatest intellectual gifts we have is our imagination. We owe it to our audience to use ours effectively.
Imagine what your life may look and feel like if you were one of your audience members. Imagine it was you sitting there listening to yourself speak and ask yourself what would you want to hear, what you would want to know and what you would want to feel.
Now, reflect on all of the presentations you attended yourself recently and ask yourself which were boring and why. When you have some answers, ask yourself which were different and had an impact on you and why.
If you could do anything you wanted to challenge convention to capture and hold your audience’s undivided interest what would you do?
“Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you’ve got to say, and say it hot.” -D. H. Lawrence
Step 2: Remember the last presentation you attended as a member of the audience
Return to some of the recent presentations you attended that you were reflecting on in step 1. Ask yourself what you remember that made a tangible difference to your personal or professional life. Perhaps it was a difference in the way you thought about the topic or idea, something you were motivated to do as a result or a shift in the way you felt.
If you can’t remember anything then you can regard the presenter as mediocre. A brilliant presenter will do whatever it takes to ensure you remember them and their message. What do you want your audience to remember?
Step 3: Get ready to be vulnerable
When you look at your audience what is it you see? A room of colleagues, potential clients, accountants, or engineers? As you craft your presentation, spend some time thinking about who these people really are. Some may be someone’s mother or father, brother or sister, and each of them will be someone’s son or daughter.
They each have titles and roles to play just as you do. Resist seeing them simply as professionals and look beyond that. Think about how much you have in common. Everyone has hopes and aspirations, worries and fears, achievements and failures. So don’t be afraid to drop your guard a little and let them see the real you.
No one really wants to sit and listen to a highly polished and slick presenter; they would much rather to listen to someone they can relate too. Be prepared to be a little vulnerable and let them into your world.
Step 4: Keep it focused and simple
To keep things simple you have to start with focus. Focus on your message. Focus on what you want them to think. Focus on what you want them to feel. Focus on what you want them to do when you’ve finished speaking.
If you have 20 minutes to speak prepare to speak for only 15 minutes, in other words keep it short. Don’t use bullet points and avoid using too many words. Use compelling images instead. Think of your slides as billboards. Avoid jargon and steer clear of complexity in any form.
“It usually takes me more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.” – Mark Twain
Step 5: Now practice and then practice some more
I’m amazed how often I meet presenters who blame the poor quality and delivery of their presentation on lack of practice. You can craft the most creative, compelling presentation in the world. If you don’t make the effort to practice the way you then deliver it, you are doing yourself and your audience a disservice.
One of the key distinctions between a mediocre presenter and a brilliant one is that the latter will spend time getting intimate with every part of their presentation. They will know their content inside and out. They will practice the way they say it finding the right tone, pitch, volume and pace. They will practice the way they stand and move when they deliver it. That means how they move their hands, their face and their entire body.
Presenting and speaking in public isn’t a simple task. It requires a high level of awareness, a great deal of effort, focus and creativity to deliver a message with impact. Taking the time to follow and apply these 5 key steps will go a very long way to making the impact that you want and that your audience will remember.