Leaving the Script Behind

What sets the best presentations and briefings apart from the mediocre ones? It’s the presenter of course. No amount of slides and no script can do what the presenter themselves can for an audience: communicate powerfully and persuade. Real presentation skill is about showing your audience something that’s not on the slides, not on the script. Follow some simple rules that all great presenters use to separate themselves out from others.

The Presenter Is Everything

No two presentations (even using the same materials or messages) are going to be exactly the same and that should never be the goal. Your presentation has to be built around your most powerful tool: yourself. That’s because authenticity is going to be key to informing and in particular, persuading an audience of something. If you follow a script too literally, you’re going to limit that tool to the words you’ve rehearsed instead of staying in the moment and allowing your own passion to show. You have to be confident enough to show each audience who you really are and they can never get that from the script. This is oral communication, so when you present, you simply have to present in an authentic way that allows your audience to see the confidence and belief you have in what you’re saying. That simply can’t come from a memorized script and in fact it’s often why formal presentations and speeches fail; a lack of authenticity. To soar, you need to reveal real truth to the audience about what you’re seeing, why you believe it, and what they’re to do with this information.

Presentations And Briefings Aren’t About Acting

Many times, clients want to know how a successful presentation “looks”, so they can copy whatever they think is working. The truth is, authenticity can’t be copied. You’re going to have to be very clear about what you believe before you get up to present or brief someone else. Your audience is not going to be persuaded of anything if they think you don’t even believe what you’re saying. Don’t be afraid to use “I” in your presentations. What about your own experience or background relates here? We’re often our most relaxed, authentic selves when we’re speaking about our own experiences. If you don’t believe and believe strongly in what you’re saying, find another way to get the information communicated. Save oral presentations of any kind for those areas you’re passionate about. You WILL be judged when you’re standing before others presenting information, so this is the time to make sure they see you at your best.

Perfection Isn’t Your Goal: It’s Successful Communication

Presenters worry that if they don’t follow (or worse, memorize) their prepared script, they’ll blank out or stumble. Your audience isn’t expecting perfection; they’re expecting something interesting, worthwhile and pertinent to them. Focus on the content of what you want to say and make sure that content is built around what you know to be true. If you build your presentation simply around that, your authenticity and passion will far outweigh any minor flaws. You want your audience in the moment with you and focused on some essential information, not on the flawlessness of your reading abilities.

However you present, remember the materials are secondary to you, the presenter. Don’t be afraid to try some different ways of communicating those ideas and to never take a back seat in your own presentations!

Leaving The Script Behind Doesn’t Mean Leaving The Practice Behind

You don’t want to memorize your script because remembering the words will be all you’ll be concentrating on. You want to practice until the essence of the presentation feels right, even second nature, before setting the script aside. The exact words you use are far less important than delivering the right information that’s tailored right to your audience and what you know they need to hear from you. If you doubt this, try putting your far more detailed information into handouts or printed material, and see what happens when your audience simply hears the “essence” of what you’ve come to deliver from you.  They’ll be engaged and hungry for more information, which is exactly what you want. You can add far more detail in the q and a portion once they are engaged and you know what else they want to hear from you.

Just Take The Leap

Start by lifting your briefing or presentation up to its highest levels. Once you decide on your key ideas (no more than three), allow yourself to orally explain each one briefly. Hear what you naturally use as your strongest points behind each idea. Let those ‘bigger’ ideas guide you as you hone your oral presentation. Many if not most presenters simply sit and write their scripts and then try to rehearse and memorize, causing the “inauthenticity” problem of so many oral briefings. Try reversing the process (without the memorization).  You need to hear yourself repeatedly get through the presentation without the script to get closer to what your audience is actually hearing and seeing. Once you get your core ideas down, you can gradually add a bit more; until you’re satisfied your presentation contains only the best of what you want to communicate. After all, that’s what your audience really wants to hear.

You really can present and deliver briefings like a pro! Leave the script behind and let your audience see you at your best, authentic self.

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Leaving PowerPoint Behind: No, You Don’t HAVE To Use It

At the Pincus Group, we know better than to try and talk clients out of using their slides when making presentations. At many (if not most) organizations, presentations have simply come to mean an oral talk communicated with the aid of slides. Separating the two, presentation from PowerPoint, is as unthinkable as presenting before others in lounge wear. It’s just not done!

But is that because PowerPoint is widely considered a successful mode of communication? Anyone who has suffered through their share of bad presentations knows the answer. Very often, audience hopes of an interesting presentation are dashed quickly as soon as the lights are dimmed. So if you’re someone who wants to break the mold, doesn’t want to present their ideas using slides filled with bullets and text just because everyone else does, how would you present your ideas?

Ask yourself to consider how you might do things differently:

Bring back the visuals in visual aids

Ask yourself if you could get through a presentation without reading or asking your audience to read. How would that change your presentation? It definitely forces the presenter to be very clear about their purpose and key messages. By putting the burden of communication on the presenter, and excluding text, it forces a shift in the way presenters communicate their ideas. Are there photographs, drawings, or renderings you could use to show your ideas and help your audiences understand them?

Think outside the box

If you do decide to rely on visuals rather than text, think of those ‘visuals’ in the widest possible sense. There might be a simple prop you could use to demonstrate how your ideas work. There might be a video that helps you set the stage for your ideas. Then again, you might try simply interacting with your audience to lead them through how to consider your idea. Think about what your messages are and what your goal is for this audience. What are you trying to get them to understand or be persuaded of?  Removing text from your presentation might force you to find more creative avenues of communication. Remember, everyone loves a good story.

Keep it moving

When presenters use PowerPoint, the materials tend to drive the performance. Presenters often want to address each bullet on each slide, regardless of what their audience may be interested in, or the time allotted, because it’s there.  Without those bullets, with or without visuals, presenters become far more aware of having to reaching their audience successfully. That may mean presenters are motivated to stop for questions along the way, or find new ways of interacting with the audience as they present. A lively engaged audience is far more likely to forget about the time and absorb what’s being communicated.

However you present, remember the materials are secondary to you, the presenter. Don’t be afraid to try some different ways of communicating those ideas and to never take a back seat in your own presentations!

Presentations and Emotional Intelligence: Powering up your presentation

Any good presenter knows the importance of keeping the audience the focal point of the presentation. To be successful, a presenter has to understand not only his or her own subject, but what the audience already knows about it, what they are hoping to learn, and even possible misconceptions  that might stand in the way of their understanding or reaching common ground. It isn’t enough to just keep the audience in mind as you gather your materials and decide on content. To really move and motivate an audience with a presentation, you’ll need to be aware of how the audience is responding to you in the moment.

Emotional intelligence is sometimes defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s self empathetically and appropriately; and to be able to use emotional information to guide behavior. How then is emotional intelligence used to strengthen presentation skills?

Next time you get ready to present, think about how you and your audience are responding to each other and how you can make use of that information to enhance your performance and your results. Some guides to consider:

BUILD IN TIME TO READ YOUR AUDIENCE: This sounds easier than it is. Many presenters think mostly (if not exclusively) about their own performance during a presentation. They understandably want that presentation to go smoothly and without mishap, so are focused on remembering details of what they planned to say, as well as how to get from point to point without missing anything. Master presenters, however, know the test of a great presenter isn’t whether the delivery proceeded without hesitation or that everything you thought you might include was delivered. The emotionally intelligent presenter is aware of the audience’s reaction. Make it a point in every presentation to gauge audience reaction as often as you can. You can do this either by literally stopping occasionally and asking for feedback (“Does this make sense”?  “Everyone agree?” ) or you can simply build in pauses that allow you to gauge reaction yourself.

YOUR AUDIENCE IS COMMUNICATING WITH YOU IF YOU LISTEN:  Audience feedback is often subtle, which is why for many presenters, it’s easy to overlook. Many audiences won’t interrupt your presentation or offer you the kind of verbal feedback that lets you know how you’re being received. The emotionally intelligent presenter checks for non-verbal signs. Are they maintaining eye contact? Are expressions neutral? Interested? Is body language open? Or are they shifting constantly in their seats, avoiding eye contact and giving you other signs of disinterest or disagreement?

TALK BACK: The point of being aware of audience reaction is to react to it. If you sense you might be losing your audience, don’t ignore the signs. Stop and react. If you sense boredom or disinterest, don’t stick to your script. You might quicken your pace or even skip ahead to a different section of your presentation. (“Why don’t we move ahead to some action items.”)  If you sense disagreement, you might react in turn by testing the resistance. “I can see there’s some skepticism. Anyone want to offer some reaction?” That will give you a clue as to whether the resistance or reaction is shared by others or an isolated problem you identified and can quickly address.

TAKE IT IN STRIDE: The purpose of getting audience feedback is to increase your chances of successful communication. Don’t take any negative feedback you get personally, even if you disagree with it or think it unfair. You might even end the presentation portion early in order to devote more time to the q and a section of the presentation, to make sure you’re addressing your audience’s concerns. (I can guarantee that no one will complain about not enough slides, handouts, or data once you’ve gotten through the basics of the presentation.) Keep your additional materials on hand in case someone asks a specific question the additional data can help you explain, but let the audience guide you in when and how much to use.

Emotional Intelligence is now identified as a crucial leadership skill. Remember that displaying it, proving your ability to connect with others right in front of them, will do far more in proving your leadership ability than all the slides, charts and graphs you could possibly display.

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.