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!

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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.

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.