Help…I can’t present
Ryan Williams is the managing director and founder of Ally Consulting, a management consultancy business combining over half a century of hands on business engagement and support. He shares his ten commandments on how to give your most impressive presentation.
The art of effective presentation is something which eludes the majority of the population. Presentation skills were probably somewhere down the list when our first caveman ancestors were hacking out an existence in the ancient wilderness. Although if we look at some of the earliest cave etchings and drawings they still rank as more slick than many of the Powerpoint presentations we all have had to sit through over the years.
The dread of giving presentations is largely an irrational and illogical fear of the unknown. The trick is to make the entire process more rational and logical. Genuine stage fright is as common in people presenting for the first time as it can be for Fortune 500 CEO’s who present on a regular basis. In extreme cases it often helps to write down the exact things you were thinking about when you began to get embarrassed, uptight or embarrassed. Identifying your specific triggers will help you become more rational and logical over time.
So here we go – the ten commandments of improving your overall presentation approach:
1. Thou Shall Prepare Properly: Always understand the audience first and foremost. You must fully understand the mindset of the audience, what they expect to hear and how you can sculpt your message to suit. If you didn’t get an agenda, get one. Understand the timeframe for the presentation and do not embark on a 40 slide epic for a ten minute slot. Anymore than one slide per two minutes of talk time is a no no.
2. Thou Shall Ensure Technology Works: Select your weapon of choice. Powerpoint is robust, easy to use and if used effectively is a good presenter companion. Keynote, Prezie, Powtoon and the other myriad of options out there can work well however I have found that the ‘sexiness’ of the tool often overpowers the actual subject matter you are trying to convey. Keep it simple. The more ‘learned’ presenters use fewer slides and the construct for the content has been visualised 1000 times before they stand up. This does not come naturally. Critically if you are using venue hardware or software you need to test it before the event goes live. Play the presentation right through and tick one more irrational fear box of the list. Technical problems during a presentation don’t just screw up your content, they throw you off your mission and trigger massive stress responses.
3. Thou Shall Keep Bullets For Yourself: Constructing a simple and clean slide decks is an art form. Do not bullet your slides to death – no one reads them and using them as a ‘reading list’ really does grate with audiences. Worse still 30 bullets on a slide look ridiculous.
4. Thou Shall Use Analogies And Humour At Your Peril: I love constructing analogies to explain or sell a particular message. Taking the audience through a story rather than ‘data’ or ‘education’ is a centuries old approach to driving home messages and ensuring a higher retention of key information. Humour is a tricky one – get it wrong and you die with the audience, get it right and the morale booster during a pitch can work wonders. My advice – if you are confident do it. If not play safe.
5. Thou Shall Visualise, Visualise, Visualise: The process of visualisation is a massively effective way to improve your presentation ability. Put yourself in the room, with your slide deck, with your imaginary audience and in your mind imagine yourself delivering a calm and fluid pitch. Repeat until you become rational, cool, calm and collected – and write down any stress triggers during this process.
6. Thou Shall Dress Appropriately: This does reflect the audience and type of event. If the event is formal don’t try to be the Branson in the room. Unless you are Branson. Wear a bright tie or colourful socks – do something which is visually memorable. Some little tricks that I personally enjoy – during the question element of the presentation unbutton your sleeves and roll them up – this signals you are now about to get down to business and are more likely to be perceived as a ‘doer’ and not a ‘talker’. Women wear brighter colours and heels – you will stand out further in what are often seas of grey and the extra height pushes you forward into the audience with greater presence and authority.
7. Thou Shall Use Body Armour: Stand with your back to the presentation with the presentation on your left hand side. Do not stand with your arms around your mid-rift – this is an instinctual reaction to self preservation and protection. Force yourself to bring your hands down and resist the temptation to become a ‘raver’ – if your hands become too ‘hyper’ you will distract the audience from your message. Placing a hand in your pocket or one hand on the side of a lectern or chair can be helpful – it gives you a base which substitutes the desire to protect and defend. Walking around the stage or moving at certain times can be effective – particularly getting closer to the audience – again this takes time to master.
8. Thou Must Slow Down Your Breathing And Pace: A huge amount of self inflicted presenter stress is caused by panic breathing. Slow down your breathing and presenter pace – force a slow down. It will help.
9. Thou Should have ‘Stock’ One Liners: In the 100’s of presentations I have personally delivered I have only ever been stuck for an answer once. My answer on that occasion – ‘Lord I’ve never been stumped by a question before. An Irish guy stuck for an answer – someone take a record of the time and date’. It’s not that funny but enough for a little chuckle and a promise to come back with an answer in due course. Develop your own – they help remove another irrational fear.
10. Thou Shall Accept Feedback: There comes a point in almost every senior leaders professional history where they think they have it cracked – the ego takes over and audiences all over the world should be ready and willing to hang on their every word. They haven’t received negative feedback in ten years and therefore they must have it cracked, right? Some of the worst presentations I have sat through have been delivered by some of the most successful CEO’s in the world. Don’t let it be you – listen, change, improve, relate and stay passionate.
For more information visit www.ally-consulting.com