Presentation Confidence: Take The Fear Out Of Executive Presentations

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:

Don’t memorize

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 301 938-6990

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Media 101 for political novices: Leave the Witchcraft Out of It

One would think in the 21st century, there might not be the need for a candidate for the US Senate to take to the airwaves to declare “I am not a witch.” One would be wrong.

Delaware candidate Christine O’Donnell already known for her widely-circulated past statements on masturbation (against it) and evolution (“just a theory”), felt it necessary to assure Delaware voters in her first general election campaign ad that, “I’m nothing you’ve heard.”

O’Donnell is attempting to counter a widely circulated ten-year old clip from her appearance on the late-night “Politically Incorrect” show, in which she talks about “dabbling in witchcraft.” Speaking directly into the camera, in conservative dress and pearls, to reach voters who might be concerned with those clips, O’Donnell promises to go to Washington if elected and “do what you’d do. I am you,” she assures.

Predictably the “witch ad” has “gone viral”, with spoofs of the unusual denial (including a MTV style version set to music), reaching far outside the confines of voters in the First State.

The denial of witchcraft has to be a first for a modern-day political candidate, but the lessons learned from O’Donnell’s big gamble are well-worn. They are:

  1. Don’t try to prove a negative.

    Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook” declaration stayed in our collective memory long after our consciousness about the details of the Watergate crimes he was talking about. By declaring, “I am not a witch,” O’Donnell begs us to consider whether she is one, giving the accusation further credibility. The personal need to answer her critics is understandable but reaction is likely to be the exact opposite of what she intended.

  2. Grow some thicker skin.

    Politicians and would-be politicians will be scrutinized closely and made to endure no end of outrageous insult. To those who claim this is a new phenomenon, recall the 1952 Senate campaign when Claude Pepper’s opponent warned voters “His daughter is a self-admitted, practicing thespian!” While there are indeed times accusations must be answered, the ad puts O’Donnel even further into the bizarre camp. It’s important not to overreact, especially considering her own words were what started the controversy.

  3. They’re listening. Now what?

    Surely, there are some national issues O’Donnell would rather be talking about than masturbation and witchcraft. What she’s done is ensure just weeks before the election that she won’t be talking about them. She has failed, despite her notoriety, to deal with the perception that she’s not ready for prime time. Working to deliver a coherent message about her vision for her constituents would have worked far better to turn the negative attention into something positive. Unfortunately, being unable to articulate that vision makes it even more likely the attention will stay on the bizarre or unusual statements she’s uttered.

  4. Play to your strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

    Ms. O’Donnell, I suspect, might admit live interviews and appearances are not her strong suit. This is what practice and preparation are for. In appearance after appearance, by even the friendliest of interviewers, and even on the most basic of issues, Ms. O’Donnell appears painfully flustered and unprepared. She may have benefited from more local media interactions before she was forced to face the much harsher national spotlight. Surely she would have benefited from some media training to work on how to communicate what she actually stands for.

  5. Try some humor.

    People vote for people they like. People like those who are comfortable in their own skin. Defensiveness and counter accusations wear thin. Some self-deprecating humor, coupled with some genuine and positive messages about her vision of change surely would have worked better for Ms. O’Donnell. Until and unless she can overcome her communication failures, Christine O’Donnell will continue to be defined by them.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive coaching firm offering training in presentation, speech, media and crisis communications. She can be reached at


Presentation Skills and the CEO: What Steve Jobs has that we could all use more of

When it comes to understanding the “show” in “show and tell” presenting, Steve Jobs was in a class by himself. The Apple CEO was known as one of the best presenters of his time and his powerful communication style set the bar for the impact best-in-class communications can have. True, the Apple Brand is unique, but there are best practices other senior executives and CEO can learn from in his widely-hailed product announcement performances. These include:

  1. Be a storyteller.

    Six of the most powerful words assembled in the English language are “Let me tell you a story.” Here we are, gathered to hear what we assume will be another boring presentation on company balance sheets with little connection to our own bottom line and suddenly, we’re riveted. A story, you say? Right or left brain, we’re drawn in. Make that story about where we’ve been as a company or group or organization, and about where we’re going, and we’ll stay riveted. Make it inspirational about what we’re poised to achieve if we put our minds to it, and it will be repeated and used over and again to convince others.

  2. Take it up a level.

    Don’t confuse presentations with meetings. When you present, do it “above the clouds”, not from down into the weeds. Stay away from small detail and the minutiae of decision making. This is not the time for an in-depth delineation of options rejected along the way, ledgers and balance sheets, numbers and charts that require detailed analysis and time for consideration. This is a medium for broad strokes and the background against which your audience will then consider the detail. Any time you’re tempted to say, “let me show you some detail on what that means”, ask yourself if your audience really needs to go there with you.

  3. Know your strengths.

    Steve Jobs doesn’t have to feign enthusiasm for I-tunes or I-phone applications. To watch him is to understand and be infected by his passion for his products. Too many executives stand in front of others presenting ideas they themselves aren’t moved by because “someone had to”. The problem is your audience notices the disconnect between the product, service or finding you’re touting and your own involvement in it. The lesson here is to understand, follow and demonstrate your strengths to others. Play toward your own passions and you won’t have to feign enthusiasm for your audience either.

  4. Show your professionalism.

    The kind of presentation performance that sways minds and lifts spirits doesn’t happen by accident. Devote the time you need for practice and polish. It doesn’t have to be perfect (Jobs has had his share of mishaps and technical errors). It does have to look like you know what you’re talking about and have put real thought into how to communicate these ideas to others. That means never “winging it” when people are investing their time into listening and watching you present.

  5. Show yourself.

    Don’t hide behind data or visual aids. Keep it simple and take center stage in your presentations. The real reason people give of their time and attention to watch you present in person, is to get something they couldn’t get on paper. Give them a glimpse “behind the curtain”, by allowing your personality to show. Yes, you will be judged, but that’s the point. Your audience has no other way of evaluating their leaders and determining whether what they see with their own eyes matches your reputation. By displaying confidence, mastery and your own personality, you can cement that hard-earned reputation right before their eyes.

Acknowledge the importance your speeches and presentations have in your executive portfolio. Embrace the communication challenge, and become a best-in-class communicator in your own right.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at


Presentation Show and Tell: Presentation Skills for Senior Executives

The “show” in ‘show and tell’ presentations, is slowly making a comeback in corporate America. It’s a development that is long overdue. Long, dense, dry text projected on conference room screens around the country has too long passed for the “show” criteria of executive presentations. The more text and the fewer the graphics in presentations it seemed, the more the presenter was congratulated for having prepared well.

To the long-suffering audience who had to endure these presentations, there was little reward in the effort, except getting to the end of them, where it was hoped, a few signs of life might still be found in the unscripted question and answer session.

So why are we coaches beginning to see some signs of progress? Why is it increasingly acceptable to deliver shorter presentations with more graphics and less text? Why is it now becoming acceptable to present ideas using a few simple visuals or props, or even, on their own merit with no slides at all?

Call it the rise of presentation personality or simply the maturation of that long-derided but necessary business tool: PowerPoint. Maybe it simply has to do with the groans emanating forth from every executive suite when word filters out of another request to put together, or to sit through, one of these dated presentations.

Whatever the cause, there is increasing recognition of another, more successful communication method available to executives; one best illustrated by the energy-infused performance style presentations of dynamos like Apple’s Steve Jobs.

These new wave of presentation skills share some common attributes:

  1. The audience takes center stage.

    Good presenters ask themselves what their audience needs and wants from each presentation. Great presenters center their presentations on those needs and wants and make the audience integral to the presentation. Start with what you know about the audience’s perceptions and assumptions of the issues you’re presenting. What will it take for them to invest in something new?

  2. No passion, no presentation.

    Every presentation is an opportunity for the presenter to share a passion. If yours are about something else, a mere transfer of data for instance, find another way to get it to the people who need it (like hitting the send button). This is the difference between in person presentations and other ways of sharing ideas. If people are going to invest their time and energy to come and listen to you, you won’t be successful if you merely “tell”. You must show them your ideas through the passion with which you present them.

  3. Get visual.

    Written text projected on a screen is not a “visual”. If you use slides, find a way of representing your ideas that have real and instant impact. Never use text to “say” what a visual can “show”.

  4. Presentation is performance.

    Don’t present what you haven’t practiced or don’t believe in. This isn’t acting. To present well, be wholly engaged in your material and ideas before trying to communicate these well to an audience. Take your preparation seriously. And for heaven’s sake, come out from behind that lectern.

  5. Show leadership.

    Your reputation for leadership is enhanced or reduced with every presentation. Seek to hit a home run then, every time you’re “on stage”, no matter your perception of what’s at stake. It may seem unfair, but the leadership skills you display during your presentation are the ones that will be used to judge the whole of your work. Even if you don’t yet have a leadership title, your moment in front of people is pivotal in determining if and when you’ll be given one. Think about what leadership looks and sounds like to you—and infuse your presentations with nothing less.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at


Presentation Skills and the CEO: Why the chief explanations officer has to get it right

Senior executives and CEO’s in particular, often assume they will be judged solely by what they do. What they say, and especially, how they say it, is presumed to carry less weight. That’s an assumption that’s as widespread as it is inaccurate.

Whether dealing with internal or external audiences, facts simply don’t speak for themselves. Positions, values, ideas and yes, even facts, need to be put into context. They need to be given a voice so they can be clearly understood. There is simply no substitute for the kind of powerful, in person, human communication that can ease concerns, prod action, and gain buy in among your target audiences.

That’s where powerful communication skills make all the difference. Memo’s, emails, web sites and advertising all have a role, but there are times when only personal communication with key stakeholders will do. These important players for every business need and want to hear directly from those in charge. Seeing and listening to a senior leader explain positions, policies or change allows these stakeholders to make judgments for themselves and can be key to persuading even skeptical audiences. It also serves as a powerful statement about the confidence of the speaker and the strength of the speaker’s conviction.

That’s why communication skill, and presentation skills in particular, are vital for top executives to master. Powerful speaking skills are the surest way for a CEO to embrace the role of Chief Explanations Officer and to gain buy in or good will, to build or regain trust.

While it’s easy enough to cite examples of highly successful leaders who’ve achieved success without strong speaking abilities, (Bill Gates, or in the public arena, George Bush come to mind), such a lack is always an obstacle to success, and often, an insurmountable one.

How then does a top executive best demonstrate powerful communication skills and how do you obtain them? Here are a few tips used by some of the best:

  1. Take your communication seriously.

    Make communicating at your best a top priority. That means resisting the temptation to view presentations, remarks and speeches as something “other” than getting things done. Deciding to set aside adequate time for preparation and practice will pay off many times over in instilling confidence in others in your leadership abilities. Remember these forums are an opportunity for those who don’t interact with you daily to hear and see your skills displayed. Time and effort spent on your communication skills is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make.

  2. Take your communication personally.

    Don’t confuse presentations and speeches with academic exercises. These opportunities are never solely about “educating” an audience on an objective set of facts. These appearances are opportunities to persuade your audience about the perspective on those facts, and the action or conclusion you’re leading to. Even if your audience doesn’t wholly agree with the case you’re making, these appearances are your opportunity to assure them you are the right person to be making the case. Don’t seek to be dispassionate. Allow your audiences to see the conviction with which you hold your ideas.

  3. Do get help.

    Whether through an outside coach or a trusted colleague or mentor, get some constructive feedback on your performance. Remember that successful communication is in large part dependent on what’s received, not only what was intended. You need objective help in evaluating whether you’re connecting with your audience effectively, and in what areas you can strengthen your performance. If possible, record your performances and replay them. Try to see your performance from your audience’s perspective.

  4. Know thyself.

    Powerful communicators are adept at developing their own, unique style, rather than trying to emulate someone else. To do that, you’ll need to identify what your strengths are. Are you a natural story-teller? Are you someone who can easily get others to understand difficult or complex issues? Seek to play to your strengths by building the presentation, materials and format to your greatest advantage. For instance, if you are someone who relates well to audiences generally, don’t burden yourself with too much data and materials that might interfere with understanding, or compete with you for the audience’s attention.

  5. Think about how you’d like to be regarded.

    Your reputation as a leader is in your hands, and in many ways, that reputation for every leader rests on his or her communication skills. However unfair it seems, you will not be seen as a strong leader if you display weak communication skills. Work on developing the kind of communication style that reflects the leadership style you want to project. If you are a consensus builder for instance, display that trait through interactive presentations or speeches. A leader with an in-depth history and knowledge can effectively share that confidence through anecdotes and personal experiences, more effectively than flow-charts and graphs could ever do alone.

Whatever your title, understand the vital importance communication skills play when others evaluate the strength of your executive presence.

Aileen Pincus is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive training firm offering media training, presentation skills training, speech training and crisis media communications. She can be reached at