We tend to avoid what we fear, so before you hand off that presentation to someone else or try side-stepping the responsibility altogether, consider what you’d be passing up. Each presentation in front of your peers, your boss, an important client is a unique opportunity to showcase your value. A home run in a presentation or briefing can do more to lift your reputation and cement trust for these important relationships than all of the hard work you’ve already put in getting ready for it.
That’s because your audience can see and hear your ideas for themselves. They can connect the messages with the messenger and get the full measure of their impact. Importantly, they will give credit for those ideas to you, the presenter. In short, presentation and briefing skills are essential tools every executive needs to master.
Embrace the presentation opportunities you have by conquering those fears and letting your expertise shine. Follow these pro tips to help:
If you memorize (instead of just getting comfortable with your ideas), all you’ll be concentrating on when you deliver your presentation is remembering what you were supposed to say. That’s going to interfere with being your best, most confident self. Instead, stay in the moment and give yourself permission to express your key ideas in a way that sounds natural and comfortable for you. Don’t worry about perfection. Your audience isn’t.
Do prepare (the right way)
Get your essential ideas down to (no more than) three main points. Practice delivering these orally. Pay attention to how you naturally communicate them, what details you use to explain each and how you transition from one main point to the next. There’s simply no substitute for hearing yourself present and building some muscle memory of how you want the presentation or briefing to flow. (Recording yourself is a great tool for this.) If you write out a full script, begin practicing with a greatly reduced one with just bullet points or notes with key points and phrases. It’s far more important to stay connected to your audience than it is to remember every detail of something you’d prepared.
Build in a breather
Many presenters need help controlling their fears at the very start of their presentations. Once they get into the body of their material, the content of what they’re saying helps them find their stride and pull through. If you’re most anxious at the beginning of your presentation, try a different approach. A question to the audience momentarily allows you to subtly shift the focus to your audience and might offer you the breathing room you need to settle in. (Of course the question has to be one you’re reasonably certain will draw the right response, or a survey with no right or wrong answer that helps you set up your points). You might also use a prop, or a handout to momentarily draw people’s attention to something you’re about to speak to. You might even start with a short video or other visual after the briefest of introductions.
Go with what works for you
Many executives heave a sigh of relief when the presentation or briefing is over and they can move on to answering questions. If that’s you, don’t feel constrained by formats. Keep the presentation shorter and lengthen the q and a. You’ll still need to deliver some key messages about your conclusions, but you can save the detail for when your audience signals they want it; by asking a question. Just tell your audience what you’re doing (“I have a brief overview and then I want to get right to your questions about what this means”). Remember to present with your audience first and foremost in mind: what is the essential information THEY need?
Treat the symptoms
Fear causes a physical reaction in us, as our brains signal to our bodies that we’re in some kind of danger. Our breathing becomes more rapid, our voices might shake, our palms sweat. It’s those ‘symptoms’ that many presenters fear displaying, so have a plan for handling those reactions. Know that no one can hear what you’re thinking, and are oblivious to your fear. Tell yourself you’re going to be great, remind yourself of past successes, and visualize how good it’s going to be to hear the congratulations afterwards (even if you don’t believe it). Tell yourself: You’ve GOT this! Remember no one knows what you were supposed to say, so if you forget something, just move on without apologies. If you forget something, it’s a good time to pause and ask, “any questions so far”? Don’t try to banish your nerves, channel them. It’s the same energy that will help fuel your performance. Expend a bit of it if you can just before your presentation (a quick walk, some deep knee bends and long, slow deep breaths).
Remember, the more presentations you do, the easier this will be. Don’t avoid speaking to your own ideas and your own capabilities. Remember how scary things were the first time you tried them, that you now do with ease. You can build this ‘muscle memory’ of success, one presentation, one briefing at a time!
Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive coaching firm offering training in presentation, speech, media and crisis communications. Free consultations at http://www.thepincusgroup.com 301 938-6990
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