Public speaking – wowing an audience with confidence and ease.

It is THE most under-rated skill that can super-charge your career. And in the past 15 years on the professional speaking circuit I have seen little or no improvement in the speakers who surround me at events.

Great presentation technique gets you noticed inside and outside your company, gets you promoted or better still – headhunted. With some many poor presenters who use MSPowerpoint as a crutch, being a confident speaker is the easiest differentiator.

Learnt or natural skill?

Sadly for most of you, being a great speaker is a learnt skill. So you cannot hide away claiming that you are “just not a natural”. Now I understand that for many, public speaking is terrifying. In a recent survey of fears, dogs came top, but public speaking was above dying. So people would rather die that speak in public, which is absurd if you knew how easy it is to overcome your fear of speaking.

So the first hurdle to get over is to realise that it is critically important that you master public speaking and that it can be learnt. So to help you, here are three simple things that people get wrong, but are easy to fix and will have the greatest impact on your presentation:

FATAL FLAW-1: presenting = MSPowerpoint

For most people when asked to present something, they immediately boot up MSPowerpoint. There are 3 phases to a presentation

  1. Preparation; what are you going to say, to whom and how
  2. Presenting; getting up on your feet
  3. Leave behinds; what are you going to leave with the audience

The flawed thinking goes like this:

I need to present. Let me start thinking about what I going to say. Boot up MSPowerpoint. You start typing bullets to organise your ideas. You rearrange the slides. The slides and bullets are tidied up and become the presentation. You add more detail to the bullets because you are anxious you won’t remember what you are going to say. But then you think about what the audience will need to read once the presentation is over. So you add more information to each slide. Suddenly you have 25 slides each with 100 words in 15 point font. Nonsense.

Lets think about that 1,2,3 again

  1. Prepare: I use a mindmap on paper with a pencil. I can see everything on one page; the ideas, the flow, the high level and the detail. I can rearrange easily. Once finished I can then think about “2. How I will present.”
  2. Presenting: They are there to hear you. To connect. They are not there to watch you read your slides. So what do you need to get your message over? Nothing, props, images, diagrams or some words.
  3. Leave behind: What you leave them with could be a book, a white paper, a report or a link to a website. What you used to present should be too little.

FATAL FLAW-2: Weak start and weaker finish

The most important part of your presentation is the end. That’s what people remember so prepare enough time to plan a big finish that summarises the entire presentation. A trick I use is my final sentence costs $5 per word. So keep it short and tight. BTW “Oh, that’s my last slide” or “That’s all from me” is not acceptable. Here is an acceptable finish, “This is the most cost-effective way of reaching your customers… ever” or “The best way to excite, inspire and connect with your customers”

The second most important part of the presentation is the beginning. A strong start engages the audience, settles your nerves and should make an impact. Get someone else to introduce you that gives you credibility and allows you to start with a powerful opening statement e.g. “Sailing is the most under-rated marketing medium”, or “Sailing is 250 times more cost effective than Formula 1”.

FATAL FLAW-3: Words words words

The greatest fear people have is they will “forget their words”. This is not a Shakespeare play or Hollywood film. The presentation should not be tightly scripted and memorized, or even worse read out loud. There are exceptions such as legal statements to the press and the military. If you know your subject and you have prepared then the words will come to you. The exact words are less important than how they are delivered.

In fact 38% of communication is tone of voice. Only 7% is what you actually say. The remaining 55% 
is physiology; body language, how you look, where you stand. (The original study was Birtwhistle and Mahrabian). So why are you spending time agonizing over the words, the 7%. You should be thinking about the 93%. The pace and tone

Which leads me to how you bring your presentation to life. Again, most people resort to MSPowerpoint as a crutch to help them through the presentation. Helping them “remember their words”. Instead work out a different way of remembering your structure. Having notes is acceptable onsome 5×3 cards. So when you prepare think about these which are in order of impact:

  • Stories are the most powerful as they really connect with the audience. But you should tell the stories without slides. Use your passion.
  • Props are great. They bring the subject to life. Alternatively think of props which are an analogy to your message.
  • Images and video can drive strong emotions, which is what you want.
  • Words should be the last resort and avoid bulleted lists.

One thought on the text on slides. Work out who is the oldest person in the room. Divide their age by 2 and that is the smallest font you are allowed. So a 60 year old means no text smaller that 30 pt font.

Every day is a chance to practice

Don’t just think about formal stand-up conferences. These principles are completely valid when talking to a small group or a meeting with just one other person. I create little mindmaps for important meetings. I create and larger mindmaps for major conference keynotes.

Find places that are lower risk to try things out. Put yourself forward to speak at schools, colleges or other groups. Work out what works for you. The best way to prepare. How you relax before you go on stage. How you help yourself remember your structure. How you keep track of the time. You will get it wrong. You will know it was wrong, but often the audience has no idea. Just like your sailing, be good at self analysis. Learn from it and grow. Your career depends on it.

Final thought

“There is no such things as failure, only feedback”

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2 thoughts on “Presenting – how to rock, not suck

  1. Ian, many things I do agree with. For example that stories are the essence, but they need to be REAL ONES about real people. Stories about yourself getting it wrong and what you learned from it are also great because they make you the human in front of humans. If you try to come across as the one to know it better than everyone then people will resent that. Which is why I disagree with the idea that you need to put all a claim at the end of the presentation.

    What is true is that the START and the END of the presentation are the only times when you have the full attention of ALL your audience. At the start you need to grasp them emotionally and yes, a powerpoint slide won’t do it. I did a whole IT strategy presentation just from stock and my own photography and hardly any had a computer in it. It is great to start your presentation before you open your powerpoint, but keep it brief and think about how you can become that human.

    While you present do not stand still, move left and right, focus on as many individuals as you can. Point at people and ask them a direct question, ideally with yes or no answer. Walk down into the audience. Never ever look at you own slides to read something unless you use a laser pointer. Use graphics and images rather than text.

    The END is really the key. As soon as you say ‘So before I close …’ thats when the audience jumps to attention. If you loose that moment then you lost them. You can at most pass three items to them and you must not put them all on one slide. Each point must be hammered emotionally into their mind. Use a single word on the slide and then tell a 30 second story to go with it. Ask them if they agree or disagree to be inclusive. Present your statement as an experience and not as a proven fact. Leave room for other views.

    Close your presentation with a request: ‘I propose to you that if you ‘DO THIS’ then you will ‘SEE THAT’ and the consequence wiil be ‘THIS OUTCOME’. I wish you the same kind of success with as I and those people I told you about had.’

    If you manage in 30 minutes then your really did your job. 45 is less good but can be ok. More? Absolutely not. And thats where I am the most guilty. I get so carried away with my stories that I find it hard not to expand on them …

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