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!

Best Briefings: How To Deliver A Briefing Your Boss Will Thank You For

Briefing, noun brief·ing \ˈbrē-fiŋ\: an act or instance of giving precise instructions or essential information.

As usual, Webster’s definition is a useful starting point for helping us focus on the goal here. A briefing should communicate only the essence of what your target audience needs to know. As the briefer, you presumably know quite a bit more. To understand where your knowledge and your audience’s need to know intersect, begin by asking yourself about your purpose. Why does your audience need this information? How will they use it? What do they already know or assume about what they’re going to hear? Briefings are a no-frills form of communication that seems deceptively simple, but one that even senior executives can struggle with. Follow some basic rules to deliver the kind of briefing your boss will thank you for:

EVEN INFORMATIONAL BRIEFINGS HAVE TO BE PERSUASIVE
If your audience is to believe you know what you’re talking about, regardless of your title or position, you’re going to have to persuade them of that in your briefing. Your audience will have to hear and see through your presentation that you’ve selected the right information for them to consider. In other words, the recitation of raw data, no matter how profound or complex or enlightening, isn’t going to make your case for you. Numbers actually don’t speak for themselves (and neither do ideas). You’re there to provide perspective on the information. Even when presenting raw numbers, you’ll need to help your audience make sense of their meaning (are they more than expected, less? What are they comparable to?) Help your audience understand your information, not just hear it.

BRIEFINGS MUST BE BRIEF
Remember your audience, any audience, does not want to know all you know and could possibly say on the subject. That’s true for any executive presentation. Briefings particularly however are a mode of communication that carry the assumption of being short and succinct. Let your audience guide you in the q and a portion (if there is one) into any further detail they require. (Even there, the answers need to be direct and brief, with an option for more explanation in a different venue if need be.)

TEAM BRIEFINGS ARE ABOUT THE TEAM
If you’re preparing for a team briefing, first decide every member’s distinct role in delivering the information. You want the information to highlight both individual contributions and knowledge, as well as display your team strategy and a sense of cohesion. You can accomplish this by looking for places to back each other up with references to what’s come before and what the audience is about to hear presented from others, at the same time avoiding repetition. Make sure your briefing team participates in oral rehearsals and doesn’t just share written information. You want to experience the briefing the way your audience will, orally, so you can make adjustments to benefit them.

REMEMBER THIS IS ORAL COMMUNICATION
If you’re presenting your briefing using PowerPoint or handouts, remember those are visual AIDS, not the whole of the briefing itself. Make sure whatever materials you have are visually powerful and not mere words for your audience to read. Whatever aids you use shouldn’t take center stage or overpower you–the job of the briefer is all important here. Remember too that oral communication demands you be understood the first time. As FDR famously said, “Be sincere, be brief, be seated.”

Aileen Pincus is President and CEO of The Pincus Group, Inc., providing tailored presentation training and media coaching to executives worldwide, with headquarters in Washington, DC.