Presentation Skills and the CEO: What Steve Jobs has that we could all use more of

When it comes to understanding the “show” in “show and tell” presenting, Steve Jobs was in a class by himself. The Apple CEO was known as one of the best presenters of his time and his powerful communication style set the bar for the impact best-in-class communications can have. True, the Apple Brand is unique, but there are best practices other senior executives and CEO can learn from in his widely-hailed product announcement performances. These include:

  1. Be a storyteller.

    Six of the most powerful words assembled in the English language are “Let me tell you a story.” Here we are, gathered to hear what we assume will be another boring presentation on company balance sheets with little connection to our own bottom line and suddenly, we’re riveted. A story, you say? Right or left brain, we’re drawn in. Make that story about where we’ve been as a company or group or organization, and about where we’re going, and we’ll stay riveted. Make it inspirational about what we’re poised to achieve if we put our minds to it, and it will be repeated and used over and again to convince others.

  2. Take it up a level.

    Don’t confuse presentations with meetings. When you present, do it “above the clouds”, not from down into the weeds. Stay away from small detail and the minutiae of decision making. This is not the time for an in-depth delineation of options rejected along the way, ledgers and balance sheets, numbers and charts that require detailed analysis and time for consideration. This is a medium for broad strokes and the background against which your audience will then consider the detail. Any time you’re tempted to say, “let me show you some detail on what that means”, ask yourself if your audience really needs to go there with you.

  3. Know your strengths.

    Steve Jobs doesn’t have to feign enthusiasm for I-tunes or I-phone applications. To watch him is to understand and be infected by his passion for his products. Too many executives stand in front of others presenting ideas they themselves aren’t moved by because “someone had to”. The problem is your audience notices the disconnect between the product, service or finding you’re touting and your own involvement in it. The lesson here is to understand, follow and demonstrate your strengths to others. Play toward your own passions and you won’t have to feign enthusiasm for your audience either.

  4. Show your professionalism.

    The kind of presentation performance that sways minds and lifts spirits doesn’t happen by accident. Devote the time you need for practice and polish. It doesn’t have to be perfect (Jobs has had his share of mishaps and technical errors). It does have to look like you know what you’re talking about and have put real thought into how to communicate these ideas to others. That means never “winging it” when people are investing their time into listening and watching you present.

  5. Show yourself.

    Don’t hide behind data or visual aids. Keep it simple and take center stage in your presentations. The real reason people give of their time and attention to watch you present in person, is to get something they couldn’t get on paper. Give them a glimpse “behind the curtain”, by allowing your personality to show. Yes, you will be judged, but that’s the point. Your audience has no other way of evaluating their leaders and determining whether what they see with their own eyes matches your reputation. By displaying confidence, mastery and your own personality, you can cement that hard-earned reputation right before their eyes.

Acknowledge the importance your speeches and presentations have in your executive portfolio. Embrace the communication challenge, and become a best-in-class communicator in your own right.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Presentation Show and Tell: Presentation Skills for Senior Executives

The “show” in ‘show and tell’ presentations, is slowly making a comeback in corporate America. It’s a development that is long overdue. Long, dense, dry text projected on conference room screens around the country has too long passed for the “show” criteria of executive presentations. The more text and the fewer the graphics in presentations it seemed, the more the presenter was congratulated for having prepared well.

To the long-suffering audience who had to endure these presentations, there was little reward in the effort, except getting to the end of them, where it was hoped, a few signs of life might still be found in the unscripted question and answer session.

So why are we coaches beginning to see some signs of progress? Why is it increasingly acceptable to deliver shorter presentations with more graphics and less text? Why is it now becoming acceptable to present ideas using a few simple visuals or props, or even, on their own merit with no slides at all?

Call it the rise of presentation personality or simply the maturation of that long-derided but necessary business tool: PowerPoint. Maybe it simply has to do with the groans emanating forth from every executive suite when word filters out of another request to put together, or to sit through, one of these dated presentations.

Whatever the cause, there is increasing recognition of another, more successful communication method available to executives; one best illustrated by the energy-infused performance style presentations of dynamos like Apple’s Steve Jobs.

These new wave of presentation skills share some common attributes:

  1. The audience takes center stage.

    Good presenters ask themselves what their audience needs and wants from each presentation. Great presenters center their presentations on those needs and wants and make the audience integral to the presentation. Start with what you know about the audience’s perceptions and assumptions of the issues you’re presenting. What will it take for them to invest in something new?

  2. No passion, no presentation.

    Every presentation is an opportunity for the presenter to share a passion. If yours are about something else, a mere transfer of data for instance, find another way to get it to the people who need it (like hitting the send button). This is the difference between in person presentations and other ways of sharing ideas. If people are going to invest their time and energy to come and listen to you, you won’t be successful if you merely “tell”. You must show them your ideas through the passion with which you present them.

  3. Get visual.

    Written text projected on a screen is not a “visual”. If you use slides, find a way of representing your ideas that have real and instant impact. Never use text to “say” what a visual can “show”.

  4. Presentation is performance.

    Don’t present what you haven’t practiced or don’t believe in. This isn’t acting. To present well, be wholly engaged in your material and ideas before trying to communicate these well to an audience. Take your preparation seriously. And for heaven’s sake, come out from behind that lectern.

  5. Show leadership.

    Your reputation for leadership is enhanced or reduced with every presentation. Seek to hit a home run then, every time you’re “on stage”, no matter your perception of what’s at stake. It may seem unfair, but the leadership skills you display during your presentation are the ones that will be used to judge the whole of your work. Even if you don’t yet have a leadership title, your moment in front of people is pivotal in determining if and when you’ll be given one. Think about what leadership looks and sounds like to you—and infuse your presentations with nothing less.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Presentation Skills and the CEO: Why the chief explanations officer has to get it right

Senior executives and CEO’s in particular, often assume they will be judged solely by what they do. What they say, and especially, how they say it, is presumed to carry less weight. That’s an assumption that’s as widespread as it is inaccurate.

Whether dealing with internal or external audiences, facts simply don’t speak for themselves. Positions, values, ideas and yes, even facts, need to be put into context. They need to be given a voice so they can be clearly understood. There is simply no substitute for the kind of powerful, in person, human communication that can ease concerns, prod action, and gain buy in among your target audiences.

That’s where powerful communication skills make all the difference. Memo’s, emails, web sites and advertising all have a role, but there are times when only personal communication with key stakeholders will do. These important players for every business need and want to hear directly from those in charge. Seeing and listening to a senior leader explain positions, policies or change allows these stakeholders to make judgments for themselves and can be key to persuading even skeptical audiences. It also serves as a powerful statement about the confidence of the speaker and the strength of the speaker’s conviction.

That’s why communication skill, and presentation skills in particular, are vital for top executives to master. Powerful speaking skills are the surest way for a CEO to embrace the role of Chief Explanations Officer and to gain buy in or good will, to build or regain trust.

While it’s easy enough to cite examples of highly successful leaders who’ve achieved success without strong speaking abilities, (Bill Gates, or in the public arena, George Bush come to mind), such a lack is always an obstacle to success, and often, an insurmountable one.

How then does a top executive best demonstrate powerful communication skills and how do you obtain them? Here are a few tips used by some of the best:

  1. Take your communication seriously.

    Make communicating at your best a top priority. That means resisting the temptation to view presentations, remarks and speeches as something “other” than getting things done. Deciding to set aside adequate time for preparation and practice will pay off many times over in instilling confidence in others in your leadership abilities. Remember these forums are an opportunity for those who don’t interact with you daily to hear and see your skills displayed. Time and effort spent on your communication skills is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make.

  2. Take your communication personally.

    Don’t confuse presentations and speeches with academic exercises. These opportunities are never solely about “educating” an audience on an objective set of facts. These appearances are opportunities to persuade your audience about the perspective on those facts, and the action or conclusion you’re leading to. Even if your audience doesn’t wholly agree with the case you’re making, these appearances are your opportunity to assure them you are the right person to be making the case. Don’t seek to be dispassionate. Allow your audiences to see the conviction with which you hold your ideas.

  3. Do get help.

    Whether through an outside coach or a trusted colleague or mentor, get some constructive feedback on your performance. Remember that successful communication is in large part dependent on what’s received, not only what was intended. You need objective help in evaluating whether you’re connecting with your audience effectively, and in what areas you can strengthen your performance. If possible, record your performances and replay them. Try to see your performance from your audience’s perspective.

  4. Know thyself.

    Powerful communicators are adept at developing their own, unique style, rather than trying to emulate someone else. To do that, you’ll need to identify what your strengths are. Are you a natural story-teller? Are you someone who can easily get others to understand difficult or complex issues? Seek to play to your strengths by building the presentation, materials and format to your greatest advantage. For instance, if you are someone who relates well to audiences generally, don’t burden yourself with too much data and materials that might interfere with understanding, or compete with you for the audience’s attention.

  5. Think about how you’d like to be regarded.

    Your reputation as a leader is in your hands, and in many ways, that reputation for every leader rests on his or her communication skills. However unfair it seems, you will not be seen as a strong leader if you display weak communication skills. Work on developing the kind of communication style that reflects the leadership style you want to project. If you are a consensus builder for instance, display that trait through interactive presentations or speeches. A leader with an in-depth history and knowledge can effectively share that confidence through anecdotes and personal experiences, more effectively than flow-charts and graphs could ever do alone.

Whatever your title, understand the vital importance communication skills play when others evaluate the strength of your executive presence.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Presentation Mastery: What You Can Really Learn From Obama’s Oratory Skills: This Isn’t Acting

When someone makes the difficult look easy, we tend to label him or her “a natural.” President Barack Obama is no exception.

His ability to move people through soaring rhetoric and appealing rhythms of his delivery is now the stuff of legends. Detractors often attribute the president’s strong popularity in large part to his oratorical skills, not his ideas. It is the president’s personae and sheer natural magnetism at work they insist, nothing more.

The problem with the argument is that it assumes good communication skills are the same as good acting skills. It presumes that intent and belief by the speaker in what is said is irrelevant, and that, cynically, people can’t tell the difference. It’s that one assumption, that substance takes a back seat to style (and sometimes isn’t even riding in the same car), that holds back many if not most executives from communicating effectively in public.

Any executive looking to improve presentation skill or public speaking confidence must first understand the basics.

In fact, acting and presenting are not the same. In the real world, ideas and words have to align with what an audience knows or thinks they know about a subject and speaker. Contrary to popular notion, assuming audience ignorance or indifference of your own involvement is dangerous. In fact, what other reason is there in this day and age to expect others to leave their offices and devote valuable time listening to presentations or speeches, if not for the audience being able to “see for themselves” whether and how the speaker and his or her ideas resonate? If the speaker really made no difference in our judgment, then all communication could take place out of sight or in written formats.

There are still powerful reasons for us to watch someone communicate their ideas and to judge their veracity and effectiveness for ourselves. The president’s communication mastery is no lucky accident. Mr. Obama has developed his strengths as a public communicator precisely by understanding the links between his ideas and the way those ideas can most powerfully persuade others; techniques any executive can borrow from:

  • Start with what you know. Yes, there will be times when you do not have or cannot address the full picture. Get rid of your discomfort through preparation and practice. Work to build your presentation or speech around those areas you are comfortable addressing. If you are forthcoming about what you do know, your audience will understand if you do not have all the answers immediately.
  • Don’t speculate about what you don’t know. Being forthcoming does not mean taking a stab at addressing every possible concern or question on the topic, regardless of your expertise. Be clear on your purpose for presenting or speaking, and the value you bring on that topic to your audience. Don’t seek to lecture. Seek to communicate.
  • Be clear. Never leave an audience wondering what your position is, why they are listening to you or what you expect them to do with the information you’re giving them. Of all the things you could say about your topic, only choose the things that are relevant to your audience and that they need to know.
  • They’re listening, not reading. Write and speak “for the ear”, the way you normally communicate orally. Your audience cannot re-read your remarks, so seek to be understood the first time. Use a natural communication style, enunciating your words and using the vocabulary you’re comfortable with.
  • Let them judge. Understand your audience is looking for your perspective, not just data. Welcome their attention and build on it with examples, stories and experiences, not just facts. Relate those facts and data to some larger points and conclusions. Look for something to give your audience that they couldn’t have gotten from you any other way than by watching and listening.

Powerful public speaking and presentation skills aren’t “bestowed” on a few lucky individuals. They take work and practice. Start with something you want to communicate, match it with your strengths as a communicator, and leave the acting to actors.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive firm coaching firm offering training in presentation, speech, media and crisis communications. She can be reached at www.thepincusgroup.com

Public Speaking: Getting Past the Fear Factor

Mark Twain said it best: “There are two types of public speakers: those who are afraid and those who are liars.”

Even for those of us who enjoy it, public speaking can be intimidating. It is, after all, a moment alone in the spotlight; a moment when for some brief time, all eyes are on you, listening to what you have to say. Even the most confident of public speakers will sometimes wonder, “Will I meet their expectations this time?”

Why then, do we do it? Why do we subject ourselves to the work, the practice, and the (dare I say it) the need to summon up our courage enough to speak in public? Why do we need to meet the fear head on and achieve mastery at this particularly intimidating form of communication?

The answer is that, without a level of proficiency in speaking publicly, we have no real hope of informing, let alone persuading others beyond our immediate colleagues, about the strength of our ideas. Public speaking is the best way we have for letting those we don’t work with closely every day hear our ideas and, by extension, witness our competence and our skill. For anyone in a leadership position, or aspiring to hold one, communicating only in writing or through individual meetings attended by a few colleagues isn’t an option. Choosing to leave the communicating to others isn’t an option either if you want to establish yourself as a leader.

How is anyone to know these ideas or statements really are yours? How are they to judge the strength to which you hold those ideas or the passion you have for them if you won’t show them? How is our audience to be persuaded about the soundness of a position we hold, the knowledge behind that position, or rightness or the truth of it, if we can’t communicate our ideas ourselves? Email, printed reports, and third parties just can’t substitute for “being there.”

Leaving the communication to others means leaving the leadership to others.

If you want to lead in any capacity, public speaking is one of the necessary tools you’ll need; as necessary a tool in your leadership toolbox as a command of language itself.

But what if you already know how powerful public speaking skills can vault careers and help sustain existing ones. What if you’re convinced but have allowed fear to hold you back?

Again, we can turn to the words of Mark Twain who defined courage not as the absence of fear, but as the mastery of it.

For anyone who fears public speaking, (and that would be just about anyone who has considered it), how do we master our communication power and become powerful public speakers? You CAN learn to communicate, share, inform, entertain and persuade others, and get past the fear factor.

Begin with 6 basic steps that all successful public speakers have mastered:

  • 1. Preparation is Key The single most important thing you can do to boost your confidence as a public speaker is to be prepared. That means not only knowing your subject, but knowing your audience and what they need to hear from you on a given subject, on a given day. Preparation means always respecting your audience enough to do your homework, no matter how well you may know your data. A case in point: Researchers and entrepreneurs often seek our help before addressing target audiences such as investors. Communication coaches like me don’t get paid to tell such clients what they already know about their own work. Instead, we coach them toward powerful communication of what they know, for a specific purpose. In this case, we work toward understanding what their targeted audience of investors needs and wants to know about their idea or product, to allow for buy in and a motivation to act. Similarly, learn to think of your audience as investors in your ideas. What is it you need to say to them and that they need to hear from you?
  • 2. Assume Good Intentions  If your audience didn’t want to hear what you had to say, they wouldn’t be there. If you’re unsure of why your audience came, you’re both in for a rough time. Even those you’ve never met have expectations about what you’ll say and what they’ll learn from you. Make sure you understand those expectations of your audience so you can better meet them. Arrive early so you can speak one on one to some in your audience ahead of time and discover those expectations for yourself. Greeting members of your audience this way will also humanize them for you, and help take away some of the fear of the unknown that is the “audience.”
  • 3. Channel those nerves Don’t seek to get rid of those fears (especially not by camouflaging them with artificial means like alcohol). Understand instead that your fear is really energy you’ll need to channel into your speech for a good performance. Blow a bit of the ‘froth’ off that energy by expending some physical exercise—a brisk walk, or deep-knee bends if you can—like an athlete might do before a race. Several deep breaths with slow exhalation really will help you slow a racing heart and help you focus. Continued deep breathing from the diaphragm as you speak will also help you control your voice and the level of your projection. Remember, your audience likely has no idea of your fear, unless you tell them (and you don’t want to tell them). Doing so will only lower their expectations. If you need extra help in those first moments—consider opening with a question to the audience, asking for a show of hands or displaying a prop. Getting the focus off yourself, even momentarily, may give you the boost you need.
  • 4. Take a risk Many who fear speaking in public retreat behind their materials. This is why audiences have come to dislike powerpoint and podiums. We in the audience want to see the presenter present. It is, in fact, why we’ve come. Disappearing behind the podium or literally turning your back to the audience at best is disappointing and boring and, at worst, annoying. Being read a script comes a close second for techniques that try an audience’s patience. They’d much rather catch a glimpse into the real person behind the data show or the printed speech. Think of public speaking as an opportunity to engage your audience with a story, your story. Try speaking to the audience in a way they can actually relate to and retain. Don’t tell them everything you know about a given subject. Try setting aside your materials, from time to time, to really communicate a bigger picture than data or facts can provide. If you are to gain confidence while you’re up there, it’s essential to take in feedback from your audience—and that takes eye contact. They have to see you are engaged and interested to catch engagement and interest. The energy coming back to you will help fuel a better performance.
  • 5. Visualize success Don’t allow yourself to focus on the worst of what could happen and indulge your fears—Replace that image by concentrating on how successful you’ll be at delivering your speech or presentation. Think ahead about how you’d handle any mishaps. Powerpoint meltdown? No problem— you know how to begin your talk without it, while the problem is being worked on. Notice some in the audience losing interest? No problem—you’ve already considered how you’d shake things up with some interaction with the audience and a change of pace. Tough questions after your presentation? You’re ready, having already prepared for the toughest anyone might throw at you. Visualize a successful outcome for every negative you throw at yourself. And remember, it’s not the mishap or the mistake we in the audience will remember, but the way you handled it.
  • 6. Engage The single most important factor to success as a public speaker is to show up. That’s right. You can’t win if you don’t play. Confidence isn’t something others can give you and it’s more than just a state of mind. It comes from real experience. Allow yourself to engage so you can have those real experiences that success in public speaking will provide you. All of it: preparation, assuming your audience wants to hear you, harnessing positive energy, taking risks, and allowing yourself to visualize success are basic to communication success. But you can’t tap any of those ingredients and put them to work for you and your good ideas, if you won’t allow yourself to get out in front of others. Don’t allow others to speak for you, whatever your job. Seize the initiative and begin accumulating the successes that will allow you to take on new public speaking challenges. You’ll be amazed at the reaction of others to your ideas, your authority and your leadership, when you finally begin speaking in public.

Aileen Pincus is a former local and national television reporter and senior Senate Staff, now a leading executive communication coach, training corporate, government and non-profit executives in the art of communication.
www.thepincusgroup.com