You cannot not communicate. Did you know that? And all communication is influence. Therefore, you cannot not influence. Like it or not, every day, all day you are influencing people as to what to think about you. Do they like you? Trust you? Find you credible? Can they connect with you? Will they listen to you? It all comes back to you.
This issue of presentations, of presenting ourselves is one we cannot ignore. Whether it’s presenting yourself in a job interview, presenting your ideas to your colleagues or boss, or whether it’s presenting to a prospective customer, we all have to present ourselves, our ideas, and our information all the time. We do it every day, all day and yet when you ask someone how they feel about giving a presentation, most people cringe at the thought. Why? Because…the idea of standing up in front of a group of people and talking is a huge fear! It’s not the biggest fear we have as people, but it’s up there in the top 5! So why is it that we worry about something we do every day anyway?
It’s the eyes! However many people you are presenting to you have double that amount of eyes watching you! And what happens? Our Centre of the Universe brain takes over and we start to think “what if they don’t like me? What if they don’t like my ideas? What if they don’t like what I’m wearing? What if I make a mistake? What if I miss some information? What if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer?” And the list of “what if’s” goes on and on. Are you panicked just thinking about it? Most people are. But it doesn’t have to be scary. As I said, like it or not, you do this all the time. We just have to spend a little be more time thinking about what we are influencing people to think about us through our communication skills both verbal and non-verbal.
Here’s the point: over 90% of face-to-face communication is non-verbal. So it’s never what you say it’s how you say it. What are the non-verbal’s that go along with the words? There is extensive research published by and about UCLA Professor Albert Mehrabian and his communication model that 7% of the message comes through the words, 38% of the message comes through tone of voice and inflection, and 55% comes through body language – and there is plenty of research and information trying to disprove his model. What experts can agree on is that it is not words that carry the message. They are a vehicle yes, but in any communication there are two elements: content and emotion. Body language, voice tone and inflection give words context so whatever the percentage, it’s still not just about what you say, but rather, about how you say it. What are the non-verbal’s that go along with the words?
This is where we get caught when communicating or delivering a presentation. We get so focused on the words, the “what am I going to say?” that we forget about how we say it! So, if you want to deliver a powerful presentation whether it’s in a job interview, with a prospective client or with your boss, here are some tips:
- Know your stuff!! Speak about what you know, your area of expertise. If you don’t know enough then research, ask questions, find out! You cannot deliver a powerful presentation or communication for that matter if you don’t know the content. This also means in a professional environment you should never try to deliver a presentation that someone else wrote.
- Don’t over think. Prepare, prepare, prepare…rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Yes, of course do these things but there is a line. There is such a thing as being over prepared or over rehearsed. You’re not playing a role in a theatre production, you do not need to memorize your lines! (See the point above about talking about what you know) Several things happen when we over rehearse, and interestingly, these are some of the things we worry about.
When we over rehearse/prepare what tends to happen during the presentation/communication is that part of our brain is so focused on what we’re supposed to say that:
- We can’t engage with the audience – we can’t connect. We are stuck in our own brain and it becomes about us, not about the audience. Any good presentation is audience centric not presenter centric so if they can’t connect with you then chances are they aren’t interested in what you’re saying.
- We’re so worried about not forgetting what comes next, about getting the “line” right or the information correct that it causes those weird habits we all have like saying “uhm” or “ah” while we search for the next line in our brain. So if you want to stop the uhm-ing and ah-ing then stop thinking so much! Know what you’re talking about and connect with the audience!
- We’re so engaged with ourselves and what we’re supposed to say that our body language becomes stiff and rigid, our voice monotone and stilted. And again, it becomes difficult for your audience to listen to you.
- Be audience centric! Tell the story. A good presentation is about the audience, not the presenter. It tells a story, and a story has three parts:
- The opening – the hook – which in the case of a presentation is the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) for the audience. Tell them why they should listen – what’s in it for them?
- The middle – the information. Three major points only please! This is how we overcome information overload. Three major points with no more than three supporting points for each.
- The close – this should tie right back to the opening and support how the information helps achieve the WIIFM. A good close also contains a “call to action”. What do you want your audience to do as a result of this presentation/communication?
- Limit your use of PowerPoint. Please. PowerPoint is a great support It was never designed to deliver a presentation, but rather to support one. This means that graphs, charts, visuals, models, pictures should go on PowerPoint. Paragraphs, sentences, excel spreadsheets and any font smaller than 26 point should not go on PowerPoint.
Here’s the problem when we put all of our information on PowerPoint:
- Your audience is busy reading the PowerPoint not listening to you. When you use a PowerPoint you will always be competing with the screen. It always wins so you might as well just stay home and email the PowerPoint.
- When you’re slides have too much on them you have no choice – you have to read the slides. Which means several things: you are either presenting to the computer, or to the screen but not the audience. It also means that if you make a mistake, the audience knows because…well…they can read. You also have to cover everything on the slide because if you don’t chances are, someone will ask about it!
- When you have put everything on the PowerPoint you end up being handcuffed by your own presentation. You can’t be flexible, you have to remember everything and you can’t make a mistake. This does not lead to a good presentation!
The most powerful presentations do not use PowerPoint so remember, if you have to use it, use it sparingly.
- Be authentic! Be you! We get so worried that people are judging us but honestly, have you ever gone to a presentation thinking to yourself “gee…I hope the presenter does a really bad job!” Somehow I doubt it. And, your audience isn’t thinking that about you either! So, stop worrying, practice, don’t handcuff yourself to a PowerPoint presentation, and talk about what you know. Audiences of 1 or 1,000 don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care so deliver your message with authenticity, credibility, and confidence!
Bottom line…you can be a great presenter if you can get out of your own way long enough! You just need to know your stuff, stop worrying about what the audiences is thinking, provide them with value and let it flow!
Susan Armstrong is an internationally recognised professional speaker, trainer, author and personal growth teacher. Susan teaches presentation skills to global organisations and individuals desiring to become more influential in their communication. For more information: www.susanarmstrongspeaks.com
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