More than Words: Presenting Skills for Leaders

presentationThere’s no greater opportunity to influence others around you than when you have the opportunity to make a presentation. Whether in a small boardroom or in an auditorium filled with hundreds of employees, a presentation can leave attendees energized and motivated or confused and disengaged. We often spend too much time perfecting the words we will say in the presentation and not enough attention to the nonverbal attributes that speak volumes.

Put the audience first
Don’t craft your message the way you want to hear it. Customize the content to your audience’s needs, experience level, and interest. Making a pitch to your board of directors requires a much different approach than engaging a young sales team. Does your audience want to see charts and data, or do they need to walk away with a feeling? While charts and thorough bullet points are crucial for convincing someone to financially invest in your ideas, no one has ever been motivated or inspired by a PowerPoint slide of bullet points.

You are not Steve Jobs
You aren’t Mark Zuckerberg, either. Yes, those gentlemen can show up to massive presentations wearing a turtleneck or hoodie and jeans and still earn respect. That’s part of their brand. But there are only a handful of people in this world who can get away with that, and you aren’t them. Dress the part. You have 7 seconds to make a first impression, and while you want to show your own unique style, remember that unless you are in the top 1% of all CEOs, you can’t get away with jeans and a turtleneck. Don’t distract from your message with inappropriate attire.

Be sincere and authentic
The audience can smell a fraud from a mile away. Even if your message is strong, it will go nowhere if the audience doesn’t feel they can trust you. Be honest about who you are, your background, and your expertise so the audience can assess your credibility and quickly move on to embrace your message.

Own your message
If you find yourself developing PowerPoint slides with multiple bullet points, ask yourself why. If you need talking points on the screen, there’s a chance you don’t know the content well enough and you’re using the slides as your guide. Know your message so deeply that you can share your story without any visual cues. The less you use a PowerPoint slide with text, the more the audience focuses on you and your message. You are the authority, not your slide deck. If you can tell a story with no supporting materials, you will also be able to move around while delivering the presentation. Don’t hide behind a podium with note cards. Walk around. Be accessible. Use hand gestures to connect the audience with your emotion. At the end of the presentation, they will remember you and your story more than they will ever remember a slide full of bullet points.

Keep it simple
When your audience members walk away from your presentation, make sure they can easily recall your message. We are all in a state of constant information overload, so don’t be surprised that after an hour-long presentation, most people will only remember 2-3 key points. Embrace that limitation. Keep your message simple and focus on 3 key pieces of information so that your audience doesn’t disengage from being overwhelmed. Then, at the end of the presentation, review the 3 key issues you presented and the take-home messages will be reinforced and easy to recall later.

Practice makes perfect when it comes to presenting. Everyone has presentation skills, but not everyone can present effectively. It can take years to improve your presentation skills through expert training and coaching to be seen as a persuasive thought-leader. Be the leader who is asked to share ideas from a stage, not a cubicle.