Consider these scenarios: Your boss informs you that you will be presenting to a high-level group of senior leaders in three days’ time.
Or… you get a call from the President of an association asking you to speak to an audience of 250 at a well-attended industry conference.
Or… you’ve been asked to give a toast at an important corporate banquet, in honor of the company’s retiring Chairman.
What’s your immediate reaction? Are you calm, cool, and collected – even excited about the opportunity of presenting? Or does your heart skip a beat as you begin to fret, knowing that you won’t sleep well between now and the date of your presentation?
Based on my experience conducting leadership branding programs across multiple continents, the second reaction seems to be much more common than the first. In fact, for millions around the world, the mere thought of presenting is enough to cause nerves and an upset stomach. Does that sound familiar? If so, read on! I’ll share some important presentation tips I’ve gained while shadowing executives in the workplace and also from being a professional speaker myself for the past 10+ years.
We Know the Basics of Powerful Presenting…But What Really Matters?
If you have any experience presenting at all, you probably already know the four basic P’s of Powerful Presenting:
You know you should have a solid flow and presentation structure, stand up straight, articulate clearly, watch your pace and pitch, use body language to communicate your points, and maintain good eye contact with the audience. These are just a few of the standard tips and tricks you can do to strengthen any presentation.
Yet… around the globe, the most senior leaders I work with regularly complain about their team members not knowing how to present powerfully. What more are those leaders looking for? Let’s investigate.
Here are three of the top 10 “subconscious” mistakes I regularly see leaders commit when presenting, and which I share when I train on this topic at client companies. They’re some of the most critical errors, yet they’re often overlooked.
Do you commit any of these top mistakes, too? If so, you may want to participate in the free International Speakers Summit taking place on June 19-30, 2017. Find out more about the Summit in this blog post.
Powerful Presenting Mistake #1: Not Knowing What the Audience Wants or Needs
We prepare what we’re going to say, but we often don’t find out ahead of time if our presentation is appropriate for the audience. The key to successful presenting? Don’t guess or make assumptions!
Instead, find out ahead of time:
- What is the audience’s current knowledge on the subject?
- What background do they have on the subject matter?
- What specific problem can you solve for them?
- How do they plan to use your information?
If possible, of course, ask the questions bulleted above to whoever will be in the audience (even if your “audience” is one person!) Or, get a sampling of the audience to share their thoughts on these questions, if you’ll be presenting to a larger crowd.
If that’s not possible, then put yourself in your audience’s shoes, and ask: “Based on the amount of knowledge I anticipate the audience to have about this topic and how they would plan to use the information, what would I most want and need to learn, if I were them?”
Then, be careful about choosing the “wrong level of abstraction.” By this, I mean that you might provide too many details or not enough details when presenting. Do they want the big picture and generalities? If so, guard against adding in too much data. Or do they prefer a lot of details? If so, your presentation could end up being too general for participants, leaving your attendees frustrated and feeling they’ve wasted their time listening to you.
Find out, too, if there are any “hot buttons” to avoid. Certain words may strike a negative chord with a particular audience or with one particular senior leader. For example, an executive once told me that he didn’t like to use the word “weaknesses.” He wanted everybody to refer to potential issues as “opportunities for improvement.”
Powerful Presenting Mistake #2: Not Making Your Presentation Two-Way (Only One-Way)
Too many speakers talk at their audience rather than engaging with them. Remember that your presentation should be a two-way conversation. Pause now and then, and ask a question to those in attendance. Check in and see how well what you are sharing is resonating.
What can you do if the format doesn’t allow for a lot of back and forth with the audience throughout your presentation? Then, be sure to leave time for Q&A at the end.
If you do have a Q&A, here’s a helpful tip: Don’t ask, “Do you have any questions?” as an opener. That’s a “yes” or “no” question that makes it too easy for people to simply say “no” (and which often just brings blank stares in response). Instead, scan the audience and make eye contact. Then, ask, “What questions do you have at this point?” You’ll most likely get a few hands raising.
One last point: To set the tone for an inclusive conversation – no matter how large your audience – be careful to not use “I” too often. Instead, use “you,” “we,” and “us.”
Powerful Presenting Mistake #3: Including too much content
In a survey of top executives from large companies, they were asked, “How could people present to you more effectively?” The answer? “Make presentations shorter and more candid.”
So how can you accomplish that? Here are the best ways I know:
- Focus on the “bottom line” – get to the point.
- Honor the audience’s time, remembering that it’s valuable (re-read Powerful Presentation Mistake #1).
- Only use as much data as necessary to make your point, but be ready with supporting data if they request it.
- Remember that presenting isn’t about making it clear how much you know. It’s about giving those in the audience exactly the amount of information they need – no more, no less. And again, if you don’t know how much to include, ask!
If you follow these tips, you’ll be way ahead of the game as a presenter, you’ll bring power to the podium, and your attendees will appreciate you immensely.
Presenting powerfully is only one self-leadership capability; find out about others by picking up a copy of my latest book, Leading YOU™: The power of Self-Leadership to build your executive brand and drive career success.