How to Rise Above the Crowd
Over the last five years, I’ve noticed a dramatic change in the field of presentation skills. Increasingly, experts support the idea that being a “good enough” speaker is no longer “good enough.” Mere competency as a speaker is no longer enough to sell your ideas, bring communities together, or move clients to action.
What are the reasons for this change? I believe it results from a unique confluence between popular and business cultures. The private sphere has become more public, reality shows rule, PowerPoint is the norm, and the idea of individual “performance” is key. Whatever the reasons, the expectations of ordinary audiences have risen. It’s no longer good enough to be good enough.
How can presenters overcome these new challenges?
Here are five essential tips to ensure you are better than “just good enough.”
1. Ensure that you have a good design.
More presentations fail because of poor design than because of poor delivery. In fact, high quality design actually improves delivery.
Here are the three factors most likely to cause poor design:
- Composing your presentation without an “end in mind.”
- Using PowerPoint to compose your presentation.
- Overlooking your audience’s needs, wants, anxieties, biases, “personality…”
How to avoid these pitfalls:
Always ask yourself: “What do I want to this presentation to achieve?” Many speakers who want to persuade their audiences compose “information-only” speeches. Guess what? The audience, in most cases, will NOT fill in the blanks. They will NOT be moved to action. Learn how to construct the right speech for the job. (I can help – drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
PowerPoint is meant to support your message, not to be used as a composing tool. You must identify your desired outcome(s) and design your presentation to achieve those. The best tools to do this are a pen and paper, (or Word if you are so inclined.) Composing on PowerPoint increases the chance that you will deliver an unfocused, rambling “data-dump.”
Know your audience. Design your presentation to answer the question, “What’s in it for THEM?”
2. Be fit.
The best presenters, even the “low-key” ones, use a lot of personal energy. If you feel out of shape, find an activity that strengthens you, speeds up your metabolism, and gives you stamina. It doesn’t matter what “size” you are. It does matter how fit you are.
3. Remember that presenting is a relationship event, not a performance event.
Above all, effective presenters connect with their audiences. The presentation becomes a large conversation. Everyone feels more comfortable, even when the topic is thorny.
How to connect? Greet people individually as they come in the door. Hob-nob at the refreshment table. Learn people’s names. Make eye contact. Ask questions. Show empathy.
4. Breathe. Be yourself. Have fun!
This tip is integrally attached to point #3. When we are authentic, we connect authentically with people. They are more apt to listen to us and receive our message. When we have enough oxygen to fuel our brains, we don’t forget our material. We are energized. When we’re having fun, the audience is more receptive.
5. Remember that your internal voice never tells the whole truth.
You’re done with the presentation. You’re privately debriefing the experience inside your brain. Some presenters will hear mean-spirited comments—crueler by far than any comment they might dream of giving someone else. Other presenters hear overly grandiose feedback, telling them that they did much better than they actually did.
Many presenters don’t hear much self-feedback at all, since they became oblivious of their actions and words once they began their presentations (not a good thing.)
How do we discover how effective we actually were?
Elicit feedback from people you trust will tell you the truth. Take their comments seriously, and then decide what, if any, changes you want to make. Don’t depend totally on your internal voice.
Approximately 50 million presentations are given every day across the United States. Since you sometimes give one of those presentations, why not rise beyond being “just good enough?” Integrate these tips and you’ll present like a pro!
© 2007 Guila Muir .
Guila Muir is the premiere trainer of trainers, facilitators, and presenters on the West Coast of the United States. Since 1994, she has helped thousands of professionals improve their training, facilitation, and presentation skills. Find out how she can help transform you from a boring expert to a great presenter: www.guilamuir.com