February 13, 2023
9 min read
Presentations are business communication scenarios where you have the most control and the most time to prepare. They also carry the most responsibility and the highest expectations. You not only have the responsibility of setting the tone for the presentation, but you are also the subject matter expert. In an attempt to cover it all, your presentation can become flat and lack engagement. Recognize the challenges built into every presentation opportunity and develop the presentation skills that lead to effective and powerful presentations.
The urge to overstuff a presentation is strong. After all, you have to prove that you’re the expert with top presentation skills, right? It can feel like the only way to validate your point of view is to reveal each step and show all of your work. You know you have a lot of information to get through. You expect that you will lose your listeners’ attention if you speak too slowly. So, you hit the ground running and never pause to breathe and give everyone a chance to process what you’ve said. The truth is that they do want to hear your perspective; they want to hear your opinion. There is no need to prove anything, just the need to deliver with clarity.
Start by knowing your three ideas limit. Getting clarity requires that you sum up the reason for your presentation in one short sentence or phrase. My clients are familiar with my term for this phrase – a bumper sticker. It is a sentence or phrase short enough to fit on the back of a car bumper. It is the 40,000-foot view that sums up your overall message. You don’t figure out your bumper sticker as much as you discover it, because it is already there. You probably have lots of great ideas and information about your topic. They all inform your understanding of your bumper sticker. Check out this video about how to use the rule of threes and up your presentation skills when you speak!
However, one of the most important steps to good preparation is to trim down your presentation to the three most important ideas that brought you to your overall bumper sticker. Three ideas in any one sitting are pretty much everyone’s limit. Don’t get lost in the light show of additional information. Your presentation is first and foremost about the clarity of spoken ideas. A concise message will project a sense of forwarding momentum which will allow your listeners to recognize that you are in charge. You can always elaborate upon request. Connecting ideas that might be missing for some listeners will certainly come up during the Q & A. That is when you have the opportunity to address them in dialogue form.
There is a discipline of precise preparation. One of my favorite music teachers was fond of saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect.” As with most blanket statements, there is a need for some qualifiers here. Perfect practice means preparing the right way. It does not mean that you should expect your presentation to be so perfect that it lacks any sense of spontaneity. Additionally, the goal of preparing perfectly should not keep you from being inspired by new ideas. Here’s a great example from Harvard University about how to up your presentation skills and continue practicing!
Start your preparation by standing up and speaking out loud the reason why you are giving this presentation. The fact that the boss expects you to do it isn’t good enough. You need to dig a little deeper. Find the phrase that nails it for you. This phrase is your bumper sticker. Speaking these words out loud will help to connect you to your true perspective on the topic. This is the elusive “being right” part that many people miss. Your point of view is undeniable. Own it.
The next step is to determine the three ideas that best support your perspective. Allow yourself one sentence to describe each idea. Speak each sentence, one at a time, followed by your bumper sticker each time. You need to repeat this process a minimum of ten times until the memory of the connection between the ideas is no longer just in your head but in your body too. Don’t make the mistake of spending all of your time just thinking about what you are going to say; really say it! You will be giving yourself fundamental speaking training on how to prepare and deliver when the stakes are high and it matters the most.
Whether you’re giving a sales presentation, going live online, or updating employees with human resources or corporate training, the momentum of your presentation can stall when you lose your train of thought. Several factors can contribute to losing your way during your presentation.
One is suddenly becoming aware that everyone is staring at you and feeling judged. The second can be the belief that by speaking quicker, you will have a better chance of keeping your listeners’ attention. Another might be the feeling that you have to fill up all of the “dead air” with non-stop speaking. This rapid, repetitive rhythm is very difficult to maintain.
Any break in your pace can send you into recovery mode which puts you in a state of self-awareness. Another factor can be trying to act in a way that isn’t authentic; in other words, acting overly excited or friendly, or trying too hard to be funny. Any of these behaviors can draw your focus away from the primary intention of your presentation and cause you to fall off track.
All business communication is a form of public speaking and presentations are no exception. Many presenters find themselves in a situation where they’re speaking too quickly. They often mistakenly feel as if their minds can’t keep up with their mouths. Actually, the opposite is true.
In the time it takes you to speak one simple thought, your mind is probably thinking about six or seven other thoughts. So, how do you sync these two things up? Let’s use the imagery of two conveyor belts: one smaller, slower conveyor belt representing your speech – your articulation and one larger, faster-moving conveyor belt that presents your thoughts – your mind.
Although these two conveyor belts move at different speeds, they intersect each other often. Of course, trusting that they will intersect consistently and effectively requires allowing your mind to think freely while at the same time trusting your speech technique to move at a measured, predictable pace. Ideally, we are talking about having balance and trust. If you focus only on speech techniques, your ideas will come across as practiced, recited and “canned.” Focusing simply on the ideas that flow through your mind will cause you to overstuff your presentation, speak too quickly and often lose your train of thought.
Step one is becoming aware that this is the way your thinking and your speaking work together. Step two is to practice this technique by actually speaking the words when you prepare. You don’t want to be surprised by the sound of your voice when it comes time to present. Adopt a measured presentational pace. Take the time to notice and explore how much you really can think of separate thoughts while you are speaking. You will find that you have more time than you might expect to get yourself back on track.
Everyone occasionally needs a moment to regroup and even possibly retrace and revisit their ideas while presenting. Pausing is an extremely effective tool to utilize for many reasons. When executed in a deliberate and controlled manner, the break-in sound can have the effect of grabbing people’s attention as they anticipate what will come next. Whether they realize it or not, pausing allows your listeners to process what you have just said. Pausing gives you the room to integrate a new thought as it occurs to you. This practice seems to fly in the face of the common misconception that you should never stop or even slow down your pace for fear of losing your audience.
There are several things you can do to make pausing while you speak, look, and feel more natural. The first thing is to give your self permission to do it. Trust me when I tell you that it looks a lot better than it feels. Making it feel better requires that you accompany the pause with a deliberate breath or a sustained gesture. Either of these actions will give you the time you need to collect your thoughts. They also signal to your listeners that you are truly thinking about what you’re about to say or that they should pay attention to what you have just said.
How you handle your deck of slides is crucial to the success of your presentation and a critical presentation skill. Problems occur when you rely too heavily on the slides themselves to get your point across. Slides consistently steal focus from you. So, you will find yourself constantly having to reengage with your audience. In truth, visual aids like your slides and the rear projection are never as interesting as you are. They are simply the information that reinforces your perspective.
When you have decided that slides will be a part of your presentation, use them to the fullest. Create anticipation by speaking about either the challenge that the information on the next slide will magically solve or state a rhetorical question that your next slide will answer. Try to avoid overusing the phrase, “what we have on our next slide…”. This phrase sends the message that your presentation will be an exercise in looking at projected slides.
By building the anticipation, you are instructing your audience when to take a quick look at the slides as an overview. Now they are compelled to look back at you for the explanation or clarification of what they’re looking at and why it is important. You need to do this to allow your presentation to develop as a narrative. You are the storyteller; you lend the necessary perspective. The slides are just the facts of the story.
The first thing you need to consider regarding focusing your listeners’ attention is scale. I don’t simply mean the size of the projection screen but also the size of your audience and the space you are presenting in. Make sure your initial gesturing is appropriate for the amount of attention that is being focused on you. Don’t shrink away from it. Accept the responsibility of being more important to the presentation than your slides.
Never read the information on the slide word for word. This could be perceived as being disrespectful. We can all read! It defeats the purpose of sharing your personal perspective. Even though you may have put all of the slides together, and they reflect your work and perspective, your listeners need to hear the concepts directly from you to allow for the best comprehension. Feel free to step in front of the screen at times as a means of regaining focus and making your delivery more personal.
When working with a team of presenters, make sure your roles are clearly defined. Audiences don’t mind changing their focus from one presenter to another but they need to know why they are being asked to do it.
If you truly want to become a master presenter, attend a presentation skills training seminar, a communication skills training program, or work one-on-one with an experienced presentation skills coach. A great coach, program, or seminar will use proven methodology, qualified feedback, and consistent, supportive repetition to help you achieve your presentation goals.
Learn more at: www.publicspeakingadvantage.com
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