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.

Media Training: Why Your Company Needs It

If you speak on behalf of your company or organization, you need media training.

Media training is about learning to present your messages effectively to reporters, and through them to your target audience. It’s about making sure every spokesperson or key executive for your organization speaks consistently and effectively through all of your interactions with the media.

Even when you’re able to speak to your “value proposition” and know a great deal about your substance, handling media interviews can be tricky. Don’t believe what you may have heard about “media messaging.” True messaging isn’t about giving rote answers regardless of the question asked, and steer clear of any training that encourages you to try and “fool” reporters with such tactics. Reporters aren’t passive listeners and they’re not paid to help you in your self-promotion.

Your goal shouldn’t be to just survive your media interactions. That’s a very low bar. You want to enhance your credibility and build your brand by engaging with the media with each and every opportunity.

Of course, we encourage you to give us a call for consultation, but wherever you get your media training, do insist on gaining clear guidelines about preparation, delivery and follow up. Here are some basics any good media training should cover:

Messaging

You’ll know beforehand why you’re being interviewed and what you’re contributing to the story. Your task is to figure out how to meet both your needs and the needs of the reporter at the same time. That’s where messaging comes in and it’s a key part of any training. Media training will help you figure out how to establish strong messages before each interview, knowing what you do know about likely questions. That’s your opportunity to respond in the clearest, most effective way as the interviewee.

Delivery

Media training helps you understand how to answer reporter questions and deliver your messages in ways reporters will respond to. For instance, all media (print, broadcast and online) need you to be brief. How to respond clearly and succinctly on even the most complicated topics is a core value of any good media training. This is why it’s often those who know the most about topics who find the process of dealing with the media so difficult and who would most benefit by media training.

Practice

If dealing with the media were easy, we wouldn’t see the kinds of high profile mistakes made on an almost daily basis by people in the public eye who should know better. Any effective media training teaches these skills by putting trainees through repeated and rigorous practice. This isn’t an academic exercise. You need to put your skills to the test in training before facing reporters.

Media training trains executives and spokespeople for the art of communicating in public. If you’ve got a story you want people to know about, get started and get media training for your executives today.

 

Elevating Your Elevator Pitch

If you’re in business, you already know an elevator pitch is essential to your success. Being able to communicate what you have to offer (your unique selling proposition) is one of the first things organizations from start-ups to established global entities know is essential to success.

That doesn’t mean delivering an effective pitch is easy. Knowing what to leave out, of all the things you could tout about your organization, is always the difficult part. Furthermore, the work doesn’t stop there. Not only do you need to develop that pitch, you’ll need to periodically review it as your organization grows and changes to make sure it’s still working for you.

And what about the all-important delivery? It’s not enough to get the content right. You’ll also have to make sure everyone who potentially deals with your target audience, and certainly the senior executives and representatives of your organization, communicate your pitch effectively.

Keep these essential points in mind:

  • IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO’S CATCHING (“THEM”):  A common mistake in elevator pitches is to tout what your organization does best. That approach asks too much of your audience. It assumes your audience not only stays interested (often through org charts and client lists), but will then do the work needed to figure out the synergy between what you do and what they need. Instead, do the work for them. Due diligence is all about figuring out what the need is for any particular client and then crafting your pitch exactly where it’s likely to be the most effective; how your expertise can help them meet their goals, solve problems and stay out front of their competitors.
  • VARY YOUR PITCH: If you understand that “It’s All About Them,” then you know you can’t use the exact same pitch with every potential client. Yes, it’s easier to have top executives work out a pitch that everyone will then work off of in speaking to potential clients and other audiences. The problem is pitches are never effective if they’re only crafted top down. You’re going to have to allow your people, who are likely after all to be closest to those potential clients and their concerns, some latitude. Yes, you want your teams on the same page and familiar with key messaging for your organization, but remember to allow them to find their individual best pitch for individual clients. Don’t ask your executives to memorize a script. Ask them to internalize and absorb a set of values and messages about what sets your organization apart. Remember, this isn’t acting. You want your executives to be able to speak with passion and authority about what they truly believe.
  • PITCH PERFECT TAKES PRACTICE: Whether you choose a professional coach or tackle honing your performance on your own, there is simply no substitute for practice. Countless organizations complain there is no time to hone the pitch. If you don’t, it means you’re practicing that pitch in front of the client and no organization should be doing that. Practice also doesn’t mean simply emailing written materials around to the team either. It means being in the same room and hearing the pitch the way your target audience will, orally. No matter how tight the deadline, how busy the team, oral practice simply has to be part of your preparation routine.
  • DEVELOP SOME BENCH STRENGTH: Every organization wants to rely on its best come game day. However, this is a skill that takes some cultivating. Begin cultivating your next tier of talent by giving them some role in these oral pitches. They’ll need ongoing practice and ongoing feedback to bring their skills up to where they need to be.  Executives shouldn’t be waiting until they have “the title” before learning how to speak for the company with both internal and external target audiences.
  • IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER: One of the recognized great political orators of our modern day, Bill Clinton, famously had coaching before every major political speech throughout both terms in office. Recognized industry presentation greats like the late Steve Jobs famously practiced presentations as full productions, complete with story-boarding and onstage rehearsals. No one gets good and stays good at these oral skills without ongoing, frank and pointed feedback.

It’s hard to think of another skill that has as much potential to impact success as oral presentation skills. Devote the time you need to honing and developing them for yourself and for your organization.