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.

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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.

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.

PowerPoint or No PowerPoint: That is the question

During every coaching session, the question is sure to come up. “Do I have to to use PowerPoint in my presentation?” PowerPoint has become almost synonymous in some circles with the modifier “boring”, but that’s not the fault of the tool. It reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of that tool’s purpose.

Before you toss the tool, ask yourself whether you’ve been using it effectively. Are your slides packed with text? Is the point of each slide difficult to follow? Are the slides chiefly there to help you communicate your points? Are you using your slides both as presentation tools and as handouts for the audience to read and refer to later?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may not be using PowerPoint very effectively.  Remember, if your audience can see and hear you, you need to be communicating differently than if you sent your information in an email, or mailed out printed material. Oral communication demands something different from both the presenter and the presentation. [Read more…]