It's not just what you have to say, it's how you say it.
In business especially, presentation skills matter. And when it comes to the critical proposals and pitches that owners and leaders so often have to give, how you explain an idea to others, in the moment, can mean the difference between failure and success.
“In the information age—the knowledge economy—you are only as valuable as the ideas you have to share,” says Carmine Gallo, executive coach and author of Talk Like TED: The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds. “Poor presentation skills mean that leaders fail to inspire, products fail to sell, entrepreneurs fail to attract investors and careers fail to soar. Great presentation skills will help you stand apart in the world of ideas.”
In a recent collaborative study of the emotional side of presenting, presentation software provider Prezi and Harris Poll Online found that the ability to show the relationship between complex ideas, reveal the big picture and tell a clear story is an essential part of a business owner's job. The study also found that the thought of giving a presentation is so stressful that business leaders may try to avoid them at all costs.
But presenting doesn't have to cause deep-seated anxiety. Let's dig a little deeper into the results of the study before turning to a few experts for tips on making your next opportunity to present a winning moment.
Presenting well, as an on-the-job requirement, often turns out to be a source of workplace stress. Not only that, but audiences may well need a lift when it comes to what they get out of the material they receive.
- In the survey, some 63 percent of presenters say slide-based presentations can be boring or ineffective.
- Twenty-three percent of respondents say they were concerned that their presentations were unattractive.
- Thirty-three percent worry their presentation skills would fail to captivate an audience.
- Twelve percent say they'd be willing to let someone else present, even if it meant a loss of respect.
- Nearly one in 10 of those polled say they'd pretend to be sick to avoid presenting.
- Audiences indicated that more than one-quarter of them had texted (28 percent) or checked email (27 percent) during a presentation.
So how can you improve this scenario? Well, it probably shouldn't come down to using alcohol, which 5 percent say they would try, or medication—7 percent—to calm your pre-presentation nerves. Instead, let's look at some self-sufficient ways to boost confidence and results when it comes to your next roomful of listeners.
While giving a presentation may not be the most anticipated moment of your day, with a few helpful strategies in place, presenting doesn't have to be a nightmare. Here's what several experts had to say regarding best practices.
Know your story. At its core, your presentation is about storytelling. You need to know its opening, all the establishing scenes that follow, and where and when to create the climax. Beyond that, presenters would do well to go back to the very roots of story theory for key elements, according to Deborah Grayson Riegel, CEO and chief communication coach at TalkSupport, a company that offers business presentation coaching services.
"Aristotle coined [three] terms to describe the need to appeal to audiences using logos, an appeal to logic; pathos, an appeal to emotion; and ethos, demonstrating your character and credibility," Riegel explains. "A sophisticated presenter will recognize that a technical audience may seek more logos and ethos than pathos, but any presenter can and should include all three for a solid pitch."
Understand your audience. Do some homework on the people you're about to address. Knowing their needs, then focusing on those areas, squares away a lot of the clutter that can populate a less-prepared speaker's agenda. Need an example? "Investors are less interested in the technology and more interested in the ROI," says Diane DiResta, founder and CEO of communications consulting firm DiResta Communications. "How will this product or service make money for them? What's the market opportunity and why you?"
The point is, you should build your presentation so that it emphasizes the core interests of your audience. Doing so means that your talk will be front-loaded for success—and you'll walk into the session feeling more confident as well.
Don't bet your outcome on the tech. Slides and multimedia are the norm for almost every kind of presentation in this digital age. And the razzle-dazzle they create is often to your advantage. However, if your points can be made only with the help of software and projectors, you could find yourself up a creek without a paddle if the technology fails to work.
"Some of the best discussions and pitches are done with a napkin," says Cheree Warrick, executive director of One Billion in Financing, a business plan consulting firm. "You practice your pitch so well that if technology fails, you can simply have a discussion."
It's easy to see that preparation is the thread that runs through the best presentations. Knowing your story and your audience—and knowing you can rely on what you alone have to say should all else fail—means your next group of listeners stands to get the best sense of your mission and ideas. And that's a recipe for leveraging business success, one talk at a time.
Read more articles on leadership.
Photo: Getty Images