Present Stand & Deliver
Link & Learn
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Powerful presenters are effective communicators.
Humans are fascinating and complex social animals. We love to connect with others. We pay attention when another human being stands up, takes a breath, and starts speaking. Much information in business is communicated on screens, but key decisions—to buy, sell, invest, or hire—are often made through presentations.
If you learn to stand out as a presenter, you’ll be a contributor at critical moments. Powerful presenters are effective communicators. They are the ones who get the job, the raise, and the opportunity to return to the table time and again. Become an excellent presenter and you’ll certainly be less stressed when your boss turns to you and says, “Why don’t you take 10 minutes and explain those numbers to us.”
So plan ahead, set up strategically, use full-body communication, and troubleshoot effectively. You’ll elevate your presentation game.
Section OnePlan Ahead
Remember using PASS to plan messages? Let’s review quickly how PASS applies to giving a formal presentation.
Clarify exactly what you are trying to do. What outcome do you want as a result of your message? Write down a clear and concise purpose statement.
Who will be listening to you? What are their primary concerns? Why will your message matter to them? How can you get their attention and keep it? Watch "5 Things Every Presenter Should Know About People" by Susan Weinschenk.
What’s the best way to accomplish your aim? Will your audience trust you easily? Should you appeal to their heads or their hearts? Be direct or indirect?
Your audience can’t scan forward or backward when they get lost, so the structure of your oral presentation needs to be rock solid and crystal clear. Use the 4A’s to keep yourself and your audience on track.
Get everyone’s attention with a skillful hook. A great hook gives the audience confidence in you and gets them on your side. See below for examples.
Tell your audience what they can expect and preview the structure of your talk. Often atwo- or three-part agenda is most effective. Setting a verbal agenda buildsanticipation and readies the mind to receive information.
Follow through on your promised agenda structure. Include only relevant details that contribute to your argument. You only have attention for 10–15 minutes at a time, so if your presentation is scheduled to be longer, plan for some activity or group interaction.
Don’t just fade out, and don’t finish weakly. Instead, remind your audience why your message matters, issue a stirring call to action, and finish strong.
Author Nigel Marsh captures his audience with a unique opening hook. “Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work”
The Q&A period can make or break your presentation. Prepare as well for the Q&A as you do for your talk. Predict audience questions and concerns, preparing articulate answers or additional data slides for the end of your deck. And this is important: don’t just fade out at the end of the Q&A. When you finish answering questions, wrap up your talk with a final reference to your call to action.
Follow the PASS planning steps for an oral presentation you might be asked to give in the next few months. Write down a purpose statement, analyze your audience, determine a strategy, and outline your structure.
Think of hooks as the front door of your presentation. How inviting is your presentation’s front door?
|This report is about market segmentation.||The old adage that the customer is always right raises the question, “Which customer?”|
|Opioid abuse is a major problem for employers.||$19,450: roughly the price of a new Toyota Corolla. That’s what the average opioid-abusing employee costs his or her employer in annual medical expenses.|
|We have major problems with our inventory management system.||Walking through the warehouse this morning, I heard a loud wheezing sound. It was our inventory management system coughing up blood.|
Section TwoSet Up
Contribute to the success of your presentation by optimizing the environment.
1. Choose a “Right Sized” Room
People are sensitive to how full a room is. Choose a room that will accommodate the expected number of guests but not leave much room left over. A lot of empty space can make your turnout look weak and detract from your impact.
If you can’t change the space, remove extra chairs and pull the remaining ones into a semi-circle. In a space with lots of extra chairs, people will naturally sit near the back or far apart from each other. Having people squeeze into fewer chairs gets them talking to each other and increases the anticipation level in the room.
2. Check Your Tech
Technology is both a blessing and a curse in presentations. To help reduce the stress and increase the success, use the following technology checklist:
- If you are relying on slides or a microphone, make sure you arrive early enough to practice.
- Bring extra cords and connectors.
- Bring a printed copy of your notes and slides
- Check the volume on a microphone and know how to change it.
- Test out the remote control—or bring your own.
- Most crucial—create a backup plan in case your tech fails you.
3. Push the Podium Aside
A podium is a good place to keep your water bottle, but don’t hide behind it. People trust you more when they can see your whole body, and you’ll be able to use the floor space to keep your audience’s attention and make your points clear. Similarly, don’t just stand beside the screen. Your slides and visual aids are there to support you, not the other way around.
Make sure to bring appropriate adaptors if your tech device is not compatible with all systems; i.e. Mac vs. PC.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Yep. Three times. That’s the magic number for confidence and success. Don’t write out your talk word for word and try to memorize it—that approach uses a different part of your brain that’s not as nimble. If you try to deliver a memorized speech and lose concentration or forget a word, you feel sunk. But if you have good notes and practice your talk three full times in front of a co-worker (or even your smart phone’s camera), you provide your brain with a solid but flexible framework. Practice also gives you an innate sense of timing, helping you know whether to stretch or cut your content to end on time.
5. Plan to Show up Clean and Tidy
Make sure you show up fresh, clean, and dressed one step above the audience average. Depending on the importance of the event and your own fashion awareness, asking for dress advice can be useful. Wrinkles, baggy knees, uneven hems, and stains are all distracting and reduce audience confidence.
“Creating and delivering a presentation that engages hearts and minds . . . take[s] work and creativity.”
Carmine Gallo, “New Survey: 70% Say Presentation Skills Are Critical For Career Success.” Forbes.com. 25 Sept. 2014.
Section ThreeUse Full-Body Communication
Be fully human when you’re presenting in person. Use everything you’ve got. Keep in mind that many of these principles apply to presentations delivered over the phone or internet as well.
Take the Stage with Confidence
“The stage” may be in front of thousands, or only six people in a small conference room. Regardless, walk up with vigor and energy, and make sure your face shows passion and enthusiasm for the subject. Your audience will unconsciously imitate the mood you project. Take a few seconds to look around the room, smile, make eye contact and build a connection with four or five people. Gather the energy of anticipation.
Use Your Eyebrows
Eyebrows may seem like a funny place to start, but since you can’t control your hair, they’re the first thing from the top down that you can move to show expression. Raise them to show surprise or delight, draw them up together to emphasize a question, furrow them to show concern or concentration. Whatever you do, remember that these frames for your eyes draw people’s attention.
Eyebrows . . . are the first thing from the top down that you can move to show expression.
Make Eye Contact
When we’re nervous, we tend to focus inward and become self-conscious. We look down at the floor or at the wall. Remind yourself that you are talking to people, individuals sitting around a room, who generally want you to succeed. A great rule of thumb is to hold short “conversations” with audience members, spreading your attention throughout the group. Make sure your smile reaches your eyes, because a twinkle in the eye will make your audience inclined to smile back and feel more positive about both your presentation, and you.
Put Your Shoulders Back
Great posture conveys confidence, so roll your shoulders back and allow your limbs to hang from that strong framework. Straightening up your spine pulls your head up, too, and makes managing your arms and legs easier. Believe it or not, your posture actually changes the hormones in your body, replacing stress with confidence.
Watch this animated TED Ed video about The Benefits of Good Posture. Then call your mom and say thanks.
When you’ve got some floor space, move deliberately within it to emphasize your points. For example, if you’re talking about change over time, move from the audience’s left to its right as you discuss each change. Avoid moving just to be moving. Walking back and forth on a single line with no reference to your content makes you look like a bored donkey.
Watch how Audrey Choi, CEO of Morgan Stanley's Institute for Sustainable Investing, uses space. Audrey Choi, How to make a profit while making a difference
Percentage of respondents who admit to being distracted during a co-worker’s presentation.
Tasks employees do instead of listening to a co-worker’s presentation:
- Send text messages
- Answer email
- Surf the internet
- Check social media
- Fall asleep
Carmine Gallo, “New Survey: 70% Say Presentation Skills Are Critical For Career Success.” Forbes.com. 25 Sept. 2014.
Keep Your Face Mobile
A stiff and immobile expression is off-putting—even disturbing—to watch. The larger your audience, the more you need to exaggerate your expressions and move your eyes, eyebrows, and mouth with more emphasis than you might in a personal conversation.
An authentic smile is one of your best bodily resources. It doesn’t have to be a big toothy grin, but unless you’re announcing a horrible tragedy, try to look happy. A wry smile is fine if you’re a dry-humor person.
Your voice is a signature part of your self-presentation. Make yours effective by ensuring that it has good volume, pace, and clarity. You’ll need to get feedback from peers on these features, because what you hear inside your head isn’t what your listeners hear. Another option is to record a video of yourself and check how you sound. Just as you need to keep your face and body mobile, keep your voice mobile, too. Vary your speed, volume, and intensity to match your message.
Learn from sound researcher Julian Treasure how to better communicate your message using six voice tools. Julian Treasure: How to Speak so That People Want to Listen
Although your voice is an irreplaceable tool for communication, the absence of a voice also speaks loudly. Try using silence to gather attention, emphasize a point, or give people time to think about a rhetorical question. Don’t be afraid of the illustrious pause. Silence is powerful.
Watch this short clip to see how Airbnb founder Joe Gebbia uses deliberate, strategized pauses to help make his conclusion more powerful. Joe Gebbia, How Airbnb Designs for Trust
Drop Your Tics and Find Your Neutral
Practice a good neutral stance as a default. When nervous, people often do repetitive and distracting things (like clasping hands in front like a fig leaf, pacing, or pulling a ring on and off). Avoid the distraction this causes by practicing a comfortable neutral stance for yourself when listening to a question or showing a visual. Hands resting loosely at your side are always safe. In a casual presentation, one hand in the pocket is fine too.
When you’re in a large space, go big or go home. Make sure your arm motions are above your waist and away from your body. Don’t just flap your hands around near your body like you have tiny T-rex arms. Use large arm gestures to emphasize a trend (“Sales are up.”) or demonstrate a concept (“We’ll be spreading the task load more evenly among the teams.”) Use your hands to do things like count out three points, put an ineffective policy on the chopping block, or raise people to their feet for a stretch.
Business Insider’s Hand Gestures from Around the World.
Take a look at some great pitches here: BYU Alum Rock Shark Tank. Watch for the elements of a good pitch in each.
While a student at BYU, Garrett Gee designed a mobile app called Scan. Although his pitch didn’t convince the judges on Shark Tank, it convinced the public. Scan soon rose to the top of the Apple store downloads, and a year later was sold to Snapchat for $54 million.
Roommates Dan Barnes and Wesley LaPorte designed a UV light phone charger that kills the bacteria found on your phone. Their pitch earned them a $300,000 investment from investor Lori Greiner.
Matt Alexander, a graduate of the Marriott School Entrepreneurship program, designed a color-changing nightlight for your toilet. Ilumibowl scored a $100,000 deal on Shark Tank with investor Kevin O’Leary. View the winning pitch.
If you’re speaking right after lunch on a hot day, good luck. At the best of times, humans are prone to lose focus and daydream. To recover audience attention, try these tips:
- Turn on the lights. Even if you’re in the middle of a long slide presentation, turn on the lights and review your agenda for a minute to get everyone back on track. Remind them why they should care.
- Move quickly to a new spot in the room. People will perk up and wonder what’s going on when you abandon your traditional post and do a few minutes from one side or the back of the room.
- Ask a question. Get people to discuss a question with their neighbors, then report back to the group.
- Call a mid-game stretch. This is the nuclear option because it always takes more time than you think, but if you see people actually falling asleep, you may need to get everyone out of their chairs and moving around. Adjust your activity suggestions to the formality and length of the situation. A quick round of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes” could be great for co-workers, while a dignified bathroom break might work better with senior managers.
Distract the Chatters
Sometimes a couple of people just check out and start their own party. One way to get them to quiet down and refocus is to move to stand right beside them. If that doesn’t do it, ask a question directly to one of them, or give them a meaningful and playful glance.
Shut Down a Presentation Hijacker
If someone in the room is TOO into your presentation and starts to take over your role, suggest a future time when you can hear their ideas. You may need to interrupt someone to do this. That’s ok. If the person isn’t socially sensitive enough to have caught your throat clearing or attempts to cut in, they probably need less subtle cues. Others in the room will thank you. Audiences don’t like chaos or hijacking. It’s uncomfortably unpredictable.
Recover After a Mistake
Did you get a report number wrong or mistakenly call your boss Bruno? Don’t worry. Everyone makes mistakes. If you are impeccably prepared in other ways, your audience will sense that this is a minor blip and laugh it off. Make a quick joke or simply correct the error and leave the awkward moment to show authenticity and confidence. If you are uncomfortable, your audience will be too, so just roll with it.
Plan for Length Changes
Suddenly you’re getting the “cut it short” sign from the back. Can you? Some organizers are great at protecting speaker time, others not so much. Be sure you have XS, M, XL (extrashort, medium, extra-long) versions of your presentation planned so that you can roll with whatever time you are given. The most common scenario is that you’ll need to cut it short, so spend the most time on that. Think of ways you can make your main point, then distribute supporting points evenly.
Always plan to end
5–10 percent early.
Your audience will love you.
Handle Tough Questions
Maybe you’ve encountered a hostile audience or you are unprepared to answer a key question in the Q&A. Now is the time to listen. Repeat the question to clarify. Ask follow-up questions to understand your listeners’ concerns or requirements. If you don’t know the answers, be honest and say so. Once you fully understand the issues, say how and when you’ll address them. To prepare, read How to Handle the Q&A by Leslie Belknap.
How to Handle the Q&A by Leslie Belknap
Presenting in Teams
If you’re going to present with a team, rehearsal is even more important. Practice introductions and smooth transitions, decide who will handle questions for each topic, even coordinate your level of dress. A smart, capable team that likes each other is a joy to behold, so show your audience that you work well together and can get the job done.
Getting humans together in a room is costly in time and money. Be sure you use each such opportunity to make a difference—for them and for your career.
Connect with people before and after your presentation. A little self-deprecating humor can play well, but then knock their socks off with your preparation and competence. Be honest, humble, confident, and convincing. Be human, but be prepared.
Please let us know.
Bold citations are referenced in the chapter text.
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Every Shark Tank Product. “Scan App Pitch (Shark Tank Season 5 Episode 4),” YouTube, published September 15, 2016. Accessed February 2017.
Phone Review. “Shark Tank | New UV Phone Sanitizer!,” dailymotion, published June 22, 2015. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “Are Athletes Really Getting Faster, Better, Stronger? | David Epstein,” YouTube, published April 29, 2014. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “Before Public Speaking,” Ted.com. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “How Airbnb designs for trust | Joe Gebbia,” YouTube, published April 5, 2016. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “How to make a profit while making a difference | Audrey Choi,” YouTube, published March 16, 2016. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “How to speak so that people want to listen | Julian Treasure,” YouTube, published June 27, 2014. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work,” YouTube, published February 7, 2011. Accessed February 2017.
Ted. “Your body language shapes who you are | Amy Cuddy,” YouTube, published October 1, 2012. Accessed February 2017.
TedEx. “How to sound smart in your TEDx Talk | Will Stephen | TEDxNewYork,” YouTube, published January 15, 2015. Accessed February 2017.
TedEx. “And now for the eyebrow | Irrah Carver-Jones | TEDxChelmsford,” YouTube, August 20, 2015. Accessed February 2017.
Weinschenk, Susan. “5 Things Every Presenter Needs To Know About People,” YouTube, published June 18, 2012. Accessed February 2017.