We have all been there: sitting in a meeting room, listening to the sixth or seventh presentation of the day, and feeling tired, uninterested and disengaged.
It has been said that 97 percent of work-related presentations are rated by attendees as “boring” or “sleep inducing”. How then can we ensure that our own efforts are part of the other 3 per cent?
The first thing is to realise that any time we communicate about work – on the phone, in a seminar, updating colleagues, or reporting to the boss – we are “presenting”. Therefore, communicating well - whatever the format or occasion - should be a priority. It is a skill which lets individuals shine and marks out the potential leaders in any organisation.
In short, success boils down to three things: preparation, practice and presence.
We have all seen speakers who know their subject matter so well that they have no problem recalling facts, explaining connections, and including relevant anecdotes or examples. They are so familiar with their topic that it seems effortless. We immediately feel we can trust them, that they must be right. But the basis for presenting that well is always the same - intense preparation.
Good presenters come with more information than they will use. Knowing the subject thoroughly, they can be confident and feel relatively relaxed. They are not afraid of being embarrassed by a gap in their knowledge, or caught out by some recent change.
They also anticipate likely questions and prepare outline answers, so as to be a step or two ahead.
Another factor to consider is who the audience is and how the topic relates to them. This helps in defining the purpose of the talk and the basic outcome you are aiming for. Sometimes, the audience – for example, senior colleagues – will be very well informed, perhaps better versed than you are. Knowing that, though, helps to prepare properly and pitch the material accordingly.
Marshalling those ideas could take an hour, a day, or longer. But if you are preparing for a formal presentation – say, to a client, the board of directors, or an industry conference – focusing on slides and content is definitely not enough. It is also essential to practice, by standing up, speaking out loud and, if possible, testing out the venue and equipment.
Typically, people spend too little time rehearsing presentations. But to make a significant improvement in terms of style, poise and confidence, thorough practice is a crucial element.
For this, you can simply reserve a meeting room, close the door and do a full run-through to an empty room or to a couple of team members able to offer useful feedback. Of course, it is easy nowadays to record yourself with a webcam or smartphone and play it back for an accurate self-critique. A video can reveal small but important details about appearance, body language, energy levels, and general composure. Many people are surprised by the insights they get from seeing themselves present, and they find that further practice pays dividends in terms of conquering nerves and better pacing.
That leads to the final piece of the puzzle: developing the presence needed to hold an audience and convince them – never easy to do. A hundred years ago, Dale Carnegie started our company to teach presentation skills and, ever since, we have studied every aspect of what it takes to be an expert communicator and, thereby, achieve a level of excellence in business.
The secret is knowing how to get on with people. If we can understand and connect with those around us, then we can speak to them in terms they understand. By doing this, we increase the likelihood that they will listen.
This applies in every aspect of business, but especially when presenting or speaking to a large group of colleagues or clients. To connect with the audience, you must know who they are and what is important to them. Then, you can address them “person to person” in a way which resonates effectively and is easily understood.
Therefore, when presenting in such situations, be natural, but remember to speak loudly and clearly. Slow down and emphasise important points, pausing before and after key details to make them stand out. Also, be sure to make good eye contact, since this is one of the most natural ways to establish a connection with the audience. Also, don’t be afraid to have fun and entertain. If you smile and enjoy sharing ideas, people will be that much more inclined to listen to every word.
A natural and relaxed speaker is one most people remember and will later say has “presence”. And with a lot of preparation, enough practice and a willingness to connect, any of us can take a palce among that 3 per cent of top presenters.