By Ragoo Raghunathan
Professionals are constantly required to present their ideas, sales, reports or even a subject matter slide deck to an audience. While some are talented presenters, most people are nervous. They say gifted speakers are born, but effective speakers are made! So, you have to practice. Today, speaking is a competitive skill. It gets you the promotion, the job offer, the raise; it is a leadership skill, and a must-have.
While listening to Diane DiResta on a podcast recently, I made some notes on a few tips and tricks that she highlighted which made a lot of sense to me.
Often people tell others too much. Realize who is your audience and what they need to know. Sometimes less is more. If they want more info they will ask. Give them what they need to know and not everything you know. It is important to realize that when you give them little, they retain it better.
Engage them in a short conversation before you start talking so you can customize what you deliver. Your talk must be listener-centered, not speaker centered! Lead with what’s important to them. For example, instead of saying “I have this great idea….”, you can start by saying “I have a way we can be more productive in this department.” This gets the listener’s attention and then you can lead them down the path. It is paramount to know yourself, know your audience and know your message well before you start speaking.
Start by getting their attention – their dream, their goal, etc. Then address any roadblocks, and eventually bring in the recommendation or solution. You must present the solution to their problems rather than your problems. She recommends not to start with details. Keep it for the middle, not the beginning. Like a sandwich – bread is on top and bottom. The interesting juicy, tasty details are in the middle.
You cannot be nervous when you talk; if you are, you are being self-conscious. You are being afraid that you will fail, or trip or forget something. If that happens, you cannot focus on the present and be there with the audience. Come back to the present by focusing on your breathing. Assuming you know your message, the rest is mindset. Go out there and do it. It is ok to be nervous, the adrenaline gets you ready for the performance.
Often, we think the audience is against us. Actually, they are not. They want to hear you out and be on your side. Do not assume that the person in front of you is ignoring you. For example, if someone is typing on the phone or computer when you are talking – tell yourself that they are taking notes. It is better than assuming they are bored. Feed off the positive signal of an audience who can engage with you.
If something did not go well, learn from it so you do not repeat it next time.
Another important thing is to see how you come across visually – pay attention to it as well, especially if you want to have an executive presence. Make sure your body, tone and words are giving off a consistent message. Work on it so you can build credibility, trust and confidence. Body language is important when you speak. Video record yourself and see what you can improve.
Make sure you make an eye-connection. For example, look at a person for part or most of a line you are saying. It builds relationship and trust. Gestures are also important. Hands above the waist and within an imaginary gesture box. If you are sitting at a table, keep your hands above the table. Gestures are important, but do not be perpetually moving. Find a resting position for your hands within the gesture box – above the waist and below the chin.
Project your voice – it is second to the body language. Match your tone to the audience and the message being delivered. If the audience is quiet, you match it; if they are excited, match it too. You must be in sync with the audience.
Use the right language – convincing language when you are presenting an idea or expecting someone to buy. If you are in a conflict resolution situation – use the phrase “you may want to consider”. Size your audience, meet them ahead of time if possible, pace them and speak their language. Mirror the audience.
How do you know if you are prepared? Of course, you need the material. Get to the location early and practice at the location if possible. There is more to the presentation than your slides. Think about what could go wrong and think about alternatives. Have some one-liners and adlibs ready if things go wrong. That is a good recovery technique.
Handling difficult situations – don’t fake it. Remember nobody knows everything. If you do not know something, let them know that you are not sure about it and will get back to them. If possible, deflect it to a person on the stage but only if you are confident that they might know the answer. In the worst case scenario, answer what you know . For example, say something like “I’m not a 100% sure about that, but what I know is…..” and fill in with what you know. For more tips and suggestions, please look up Diane’s book Knockout presentations.