Powerful Presentations Depend on Feedback

How do you know your Presentations are Powerful? Get REAL feedback

Presentations are powerful things. When they’re done well, they can persuade an audience, enhance the presenter’s credibility and motivate action. So how do you know when you’re hitting the mark with your audiences?

For most presenters, the answer is to simply ask a colleague or audience member afterwards. The problem is, a simple “How’d I do?” isn’t likely to be answered with an illuminating response. Many people are uncomfortable at giving anything but the most positive or at least neutral feedback (“I thought it was fine.”) Of course, getting helpful and precise feedback is one of the reasons executives hire presentation coaches. You can get good feedback though after your performances if you learn to ask the right questions.

Next time you present:

MAKE FEEDBACK EASY: You can construct a simple feedback survey on index cards to hand out after your presentation if it’s an outside audience. This removes the uncomfortable hurdle for some people of having to tell you in person, should they have anything but positive reactions. Always include at least one open-ended question about what could have been improved. For internal audiences, you might select a few people to ask the same questions via email.

ASK SPECIFIC QUESTIONS: If you know someone who’ll be attending your presentation, ask them ahead of time if they’ll listen for specific things you’re working on. For instance, if you’re working on reducing the “uhms and ahs” or other verbal fillers when you present, tell a colleague to listen for those as you present. If you make it clear that you’re welcoming that feedback precisely, you’re more likely to get accurate feedback on how you did.

PICK YOUR PRIORITIES: Don’t ask for more feedback than you can handle at one time. Select one or two priorities at a time, such as slowing your hurried pace, or making more eye contact with the audience. You’re much more likely to make real improvements by narrowing your focus.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of feedback is to better your performance as a presenter. Consider the feedback you get but don’t use it as a substitute for your own best judgement. If you have good reason for doing what you do, and it’s working for you, take that into consideration as well. Remember, presenting isn’t “acting”, so if any suggested changes make you uncomfortable, stay true to yourself.

Every time you present, you want your audience to see you at your best. Put the effort into improving this key executive communication skill so others can truly appreciate what you have to offer.

The New Executive Communication Skill: Top Tips for Nailing Your Remote Presentations

Surveys show the vast majority of business presentations are now done remotely. If your company is among the 83% of businesses who deliver remote presentations, are you keeping up with the presentation skills necessary to deliver them effectively?

The remote presentation has some unique challenges, whether it is a webinar that includes video of the presenter or one that relies on slides. The presenter may not have the full attention of the audience, who may be distracted or engaged in other tasks while watching. It’s also harder for the presenter to know whether he or she is connecting with the audience, without being able to see reactions.

Still, the new technologies in remote presentations have made them increasingly popular. Webinars do allow for ideas to be shared between distances, and between greater numbers of people. They can be a useful tool when presenters take full advantage of the medium and avoid the pitfalls. Here are some tips to help you make the most of your opportunity:

BE PRESENT—EVEN WHEN YOU’RE NOT: Your audience has their distractions, but as the presenter, you need to take care you do not give them any additional ones. Silence everything around you that might distract you or your audience; phones, cell phones and emails. Make sure you’re fully engaged in your presentation. Your audience will hear that engagement in your voice and pacing, even if they can’t see you.

PREPARE AS YOU WOULD IF THEY WERE IN FRONT OF YOU: Remote presentations are more difficult, precisely because you’re not in front of the audience commanding their attention. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that means they’re expecting less of you. Take your preparations for your presentation seriously. That means not only building the right content for the specific audience, but rehearsing out loud and in real time so you’re purposeful about your presentation.

KEEP IT MOVING: Slides that stay up too long or presenters who don’t vary their delivery, pitch, and content, quickly bore an audience. You don’t want to rush through the information in your presentation, but neither do you want to move so slowly, you invite people’s attention to wander. Keep your pace conversational and comfortable, but make sure the visuals you use do their part in creating interest. Make sure what you’re saying matches what we’re seeing when we’re seeing it. Rehearse until you can get this timing down.

DON’T READ YOUR MATERIALS VERBATIM: Your virtual audience no more wants to be read to than any audience does. Virtual presentations are not an excuse to load your audience down with detail and long explanations. Treat this format as you would any presentation: Limit the number of key ideas you’re presenting, and then talk your audience through the presentation as you guide them toward some action.

BE PREPARED FOR TECHNOLOGY FAILURES: Always have a full printed copy of your presentation with you in case the audience can’t see your slides or there are other mishaps. Make sure you’ve you’re your materials ahead of time so your audience can follow along in another way if they have to. Know your key messages well, so that at any point you can return to them if need be. Have a backup plan (i.e. second head-set) at the ready; just in case it’s needed. It always helps to have a facilitator so that someone else can worry about recovering in the case of a technology failure, while you concentrate on the presentation itself.

YOUR VOICE IS VITAL: If your audience can’t see you, your main tool is your voice. Yes, you’ll want to build a presentation that has great visuals to keep your audience tuned in, but it’s your voice that serves as the real guide as to whether your audience will pay attention. You’ll need to vary your voice and use it appropriately. That means letting your audience hear your enthusiasm, your passion and your belief in what you’re saying. Think about how to ADD voices of others in your presentation to keep interest up. You can use a co-presenter or you can build in video to change things up for your audience.

ON CAMERA? OWN IT!: If your audience can see you, make sure you give them something to look at. Don’t look away from the computer or camera lens while delivering. You want to give your audience as much “eye contact” as possible and that means directly looking in their direction. Try and visualize speaking to real people (because you are), even though you can’t see them. Remember they are watching you, so don’t fidget, slouch or look distracted.

GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO LOOK AT: Give your audience a real “show”. Think about your content like a story with a beginning, middle and end. If they can see you, think about the use of ‘props’ you can display as you speak. If they can’t see you and you’re dependent on slides, than think about how you can grab and keep their attention. (Hint: it’s not going to be with more text). What visuals can you add to maintain interest? Are they unique enough, compelling enough, to keep your audience tuned in?

BE WORTH IT: Make sure you give your audience something they couldn’t have otherwise gotten from you. That means your materials are not your “presentation”, you are. Figure out what you can give your audience that makes their attention worthwhile.

Virtual presentations can and do serve a purpose. If done correctly, the virtual presentation can serve as yet another important communication tool in the toolkit of today’s executives.

Presenting with Confidence: What Strong Executive Presence Sounds Like

When we say someone “sounds believable” or “sounds like they know what they’re talking about,” what do we mean? What are we really saying about what we’re hearing and how it’s convinced us?

There are things successful executives do to display the kind of strong “executive presence” that’s helped them get ahead. Beyond the words they choose and even the ideas expressed, successful executives have another tool to demonstrate executive presence: their voice.

Borrow their tips to “power up” your presentations:

YOU’RE ON STAGE – SOUND LIKE IT: There is such a thing as “quiet confidence” but a public presentation is a better venue for displaying enthusiasm and certainty. Your voice is one of your main tools for commanding a room. Make sure you use its full range of power. Nothing can sink a presentation’s effectiveness more quickly than delivering a presentation in a monotonous or soft voice. Think about “presenting” in its full, theatrical sense. Let your voice really show your commitment to what you’re saying.

PROJECTING ISN’T SHOUTING: Project your voice to the back of the room and the people farthest away. That doesn’t mean shouting at them. Breathe from your diaphragm (like a baby: if your hand moves while resting on your diaphragm, you’re doing it right). Your goal is to use your voice naturally, but at a powerful level. Make sure no one is straining to hear you above the noise of those attending or conversely, wondering why you’re so shouting at them.

LET YOUR PRESENTATION BREATHE: Don’t pack so much into your presentation that you rush through in order to fit everything in. You want to make sure there are brief pauses built in, particularly when you’re delivering key points or changing to a new section. That will give you time for change-ups and help the audience as well. Remember we hear much faster than we process information. Especially with ideas we haven’t heard before, it’s important we have time for processing these ideas. Pauses (along with a bit of rephrasing and repetition) help your audience focus on your most important points and remember them.

SOUND LIKE YOU MEAN IT: Short, declarative sentences delivered with a voice that drops at the end, have power. If you leave your voice up or leave it in a neutral tone, it will have less power and thus less authority. Try not to string a series of phrases together in a sort of stream of consciousness delivery, connected with “and” or “so.” Instead, consider what you want to say and rehearse saying it out loud in shorter “bites.” The idea isn’t to memorize your notes or script in rehearsal, but to familiarize yourself with its broader themes and rhythms so that you know exactly what you want to emphasize. Listen to yourself as you deliver your material. If you’re stopping for breath mid-sentence, that’s a clue to shorten up your points. Successful presentations don’t happen by accident. Work for them, and sound as confident as you are in your ideas.

Power Up Your Team Presentations

If you’ve got a standout presenter, or even two or more on your team, you might think that’s good enough. It isn’t.

If you’re presenting to clients or perspective clients about your company’s capabilities, your entire team should be capable of presenting powerfully each and every time. Having the right team leader is important, but it’s not enough to ensure success. Your team leader is there to guide the team toward clear goals but anyone listening to the pitch knows it’s the group effort that will determine whether those promises you’re making will be kept.

Before your next team presentation, make sure each member of your team learns to present powerfully and in concert with one another. Remember these best practices for team presentations:

IT’S ABOUT THE SHOW, NOT JUST THE TELL
: If all you needed to win business was to detail your capabilities, you’d be able to win it just by emailing your proposals. There’s a reason for the oral bid or proposal even today when we have so many other options for giving and receiving information. Your potential clients want to “see for themselves” who you are and develop a level of confidence in the team. Make sure your team understands how to show their strengths. Each member needs to be truly comfortable with what they’ve been asked to present and fully prepared for what’s expected. Will they handle direct questions or defer? On what areas might they expect to be questioned or defer to others?

REHEARSE TOGETHER: However limited your time to prepare for the team presentation, don’t use that time solely for individual members to prepare for their individual parts alone. This is a team presentation and you’ll need to rehearse as a team in order to better see and hear the presentation the way your client sees and hears it. Give each other feedback on performance as well as content, with an eye toward how the potential client might view it.

IT ISN’T ACTING: Your team can’t “pretend” to feel confident, they have to be confident. If you see hesitancy or nervousness from a team member in their part of the presentation, get to the root of it before it can be displayed in front of the prospect. By the same token, if your team doesn’t know each other well, or doesn’t like each other, don’t ignore that. That kind of dissonance is exactly what your perspective client is on the alert for. A look of boredom or disagreement will send the perspective client exactly the wrong message about this team, despite what your words say. Understand your team cannot be stronger than its weakest link.

PREPARE FOR SUCCESS: Make sure your team has what it needs to present successfully. Share your due diligence with all members of the team, not just your team leader, so that everyone knows what to expect. Share your strategy too, so that each member of the team understands not only their part in the presentation, but your company’s strategic objectives and goals. Don’t give vague feedback (“keep practicing”)—make that feedback direct (“You need a stronger message to begin with. Make it more definitive.”)

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT: Work on the whole of the presentation, not just its distinct parts. Pay particular attention to transitions between team members. Does the whole of the presentation flow in a logical way, with each piece as strong as the next? Is each member paying attention to what was said (and literally referencing what’s come before or supporting what’s coming next?) If you can’t work with a coach, video tape your presentation and watch yourselves to make sure you’re not missing something a client would notice.

Successful team presentations don’t happen by accident. Work for it. Invest in your executives and in your company’s success with executive coaching.

Literally Speaking: The Art of Talking About Your Book

Congratulations! You’re an author! If you’re generating some “buzz” about your book (or even if you hope to), you’ll need to know how to talk about what you’ve written in a compelling way. Every writer knows that good writing is re-writing. That’s the way it is with public speaking as well. It’ll take you some time to hone your style and discover what works for different audiences and different formats. There are some basic best practices though to help you get started.

Have a message  

This is author Lauren Weisberger on her book “The Devil Wears Prada” speaking to “Readers Read”:

“Hopefully readers everywhere can relate to the other things in Andrea’s life. The repercussions of her job on her personal life, the problems that arise with her best friend and boyfriend and family, and the way it feels to live in the big city for the first time, are common experiences for so many young women. At the end of the day, I’d be thrilled to hear that readers related to Andrea and this year in her life, and that they had a few laughs while they read. This is clearly not War & Peace, so I’d love to hear that people just enjoyed themselves while reading the book. That would be perfect.”

Ms. Weisberger’s messages sum up that her book is about a relatable young woman, living life in a big city, coupled with the author’s hope the book brings enjoyment and laughter to readers. While there are any number of things she could say about the book (based on a real-life internship she had for a noted designer in the fashion industry), her core messages simply revolved around her central character’s test of strength and ambition that anyone can relate to.

Messaging isn’t about the details of the book, but rather opening a window into its bigger ideas and themes. Think about what you’d like people to remember and take away from what you’ve written and build your talk from there.

Tailor your pitch

Always speak about your book with your audience in mind. Knowing what you know about them, what would they be most interested in hearing? Is there an excerpt or anecdote that you can summarize that you know your audience would especially want to hear? For instance, in an interview with NBC’s Dateline, Author JK Rowling spoke about how her life has changed since becoming one of the world’s best known authors.

“…Everyone wanted my emotions to be very simple. They wanted me to say, ‘I was poor and I was unhappy, and now I’ve got money and I’m really happy.’ And it’s what we all want to see when the quiz winner wins the big prize, you know. You want to see some jumping up and down, for everything to be very uncomplicated. The fact is, I was living a very pure life. There was no press involvement, there was no pressure. Life was very pure and it became more complicated.”

Instead of details of her well-known characters and speculation about where the story might go next, Rawlings surely knew that the very broad and mostly adult audience she was speaking to would focus more easily on what her personal success has meant. She might have expected far different questions from a different media outlet, based on the interest of their viewers.

Understand as much as you can before doing any interview or appearing before any audience about the audience itself. Be prepared to understand their perspective and speak to what about their particular interests intersects with your subject.

Leave them wanting more

Of course you want to turn listeners or viewers into readers. You want to give your audience just enough information to fascinate them, but not so much detail that there is no point in reading your book! This will take some work and practice. Learn to speak about your subject in broad terms, adding color or anecdotes to spark more interest. Think of speaking orally about your book as the equivalent of the “book jacket,” with more color and one or two anecdotes added in.

When people hear or see you in person, they also want something that’s NOT in the book. A backstory, a funny or interesting anecdote, something about the way your book came to be is always interesting to a broad audience.   Here’s how Anthony Bourdain described his route from chef to well-known author to Powell’s Books:

“I was getting frustrated, so I mentioned it casually to my mother, and like a good mother she said, ‘Oh, you should send it to The New Yorker. It’s good enough.’ Yeah, right. That’s gonna happen. An unsolicited submission to The New Yorker? Never. I was absolutely floored when they called up a month later and said they were going to run it. They explained to me that the odds are something like one in ten thousand, if not more. They use me as a case study now when they do seminars at colleges. Very shortly after it appeared, a publisher called up and said, “Want to write a book?”

Remember, oral communication is very different than written communication. Most people listening and watching won’t be taking notes. You have to be understood the first time. Be brief, be engaging, and know that no one is more qualified to speak on your book than you are.