Whether it’s answering an offhanded query, “How’s the project going?” or selling your ideas for conducting a new employee survey, every presentation you make is an opportunity to establish an executive presence and move up in your organization. Consider these tips for improving both the substance and style of your next presentation so that you can speak up with confidence and authority.
Don’t “Let Down” for Sit-Down Presentations
In a business setting, you may make presentations to only a few people seated around a conference table or desk. Although there is no correlation between audience size and importance of the outcome, consider several issues in light of the informal setting.
First, consider the group’s expectations. Do not assume that because the audience is small, its members do not expect a formal presentation—visuals and the works.
Second, because you are seated around a desk or table—at eye level with the group—you must convey your enthusiasm, assertiveness and authority at “half mast,” through your facial expressions, posture, and voice. Sitting down may tempt you to slouch, but don’t. Sit comfortably erect, leaning slightly forward in your chair to show attentiveness and enthusiasm for your subject. Sit back in your chair to convey openness to questions.
Position yourself to maintain eye contact with everyone in the room. Do not get stuck between two listeners so that you have to turn your head back and forth with each point, as though you are watching a game of table tennis. If possible, remove any physical obstacles that block vision or create “distance” between you and your audience.
Sitting down or standing up—decisions count either way.
Never Let Facts Speak for Themselves
Facts need interpretation. According to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” If you don’t believe this, tune in to the next political campaign. People can make facts and numbers mean almost anything. Interpret yours so that your listeners draw the same conclusions you intend.
Make Statistics Experiential
People digest numbers with great difficulty. Graphs and charts help. But if you can go beyond these common visuals, do so. For example, one manager speaking before his peers at IBM about his budget being cut dramatically yanked off his jacket to reveal his white shirt—with great big holes cut out of the sides and back. Amid the laughter, he made his point dramatically and memorably.
To demonstrate the cost of absenteeism to your organization, have your group complete a worksheet on “Employee Ed” who misses six days a month three times a year. Then increase those absences per warehouse in each division as the audience calculates on their worksheets. The numbers will come alive as they themselves work with the changing results.
Use Metaphors, Similes, and Other Analogies to Clarify and Aid Retention
A metaphor is a word or phrase substituted for another to suggest similarity. For example: “My friend is my Rock of Gibraltar,” “Time is money,” “Kill that idea,” “That question will be the litmus test,” “This new product line will be our insurance policy against obsolescence.”
A simile compares two things with the actual words like or as in the analogy. Recently, I’ve heard business presenters use examples such as these:
“Trying to process these data with your computers is like trying to mow your lawn with a pair of scissors.”
“Your files are like athletic socks and dress socks; you don’t need both every day. Access should determine how you should store them.”
“This new legislation before Congress is like throwing a nuclear bomb at an ant hill—and missing the ant hill.”
The more complex the idea, the more important it is to simplify and illustrate by comparison.
Use Analogies to Provide a Consistent Framework
Think how many times you have heard the functioning of the human eye and its parts compared to the working of a camera—an excellent analogy for clarifying a complex process. Or how often have you heard complex routers referred to as a telephone switchboard—with each part of the equipment explained as it compares to a small telephone system?
Probably the best-known analogies and allegories are Biblical parables and Aesop’s fables. “Concern over the unrepentant means leaving the 99 sheep to look for the lost one.” “The tortoise runs a slow but steady pace and crosses the finish line a winner.”
Such visual or emotional analogies help audiences follow a lengthy presentation step by step.
Remember that Timing Indicates Emphasis
In general, a good rule of thumb for allocation of your overall time is to spend 10 to 15 percent of your time on the opening, 70 to 85 percent on the body, and 5 to 10 percent on the closing. This allows slightly more time up front in the introduction to grab attention, “win over” a hostile or uninterested group, and establish credibility than to close the presentation.
If your presentation includes an involved action plan, that section most likely should be part of the body of your presentation, and your close should focus on the final persuasive push toward the decision to act.
On the other hand, you may discover that you need to cut. In doing so, always keep the audience’s preferences in mind. Think of your presentation as a roadmap. If your audience wants to take only interstate highways to their destination, do not pencil in all the farm-to-market roads along the way. This merely clutters the map.
With regard to information overload, as John Brockmann so aptly put it, “Most houseplants in the U.S. are killed by over-watering.”
Never Ramble on Past the Point of High Impact
Anything you say after your polished point of close dilutes your impact. Do not ramble on with anticlimactic drivel. Say it and stop.
About the Author:
Dianna Booher works with organizations to increase their productivity and effectiveness through better oral, written, interpersonal, and cross-functional communication. Clients of her communication skills training firm, Booher Consultants, include IBM, Northwestern Mutual and Lockheed Martin, among many others. For more information, visit www.booher.com