How many of us have stood up in front of a crowd, palms sweating, knees knocking and our words died in our throats as we stared out at the audience in front of us? More than a few judging by the fact that fear of public speaking is often quoted as ranking above fear of death. However, we have to face the fact that presenting is a ‘must have’ skill these days in almost any line of business. So I thought I’d take a look at three key areas that differentiate truly great presenters from those who are… simply not.
1. EVERYBODY LOVES A STORY We all love stories and we never grow out of them. They’re a perfect way to start and end a presentation and to throw in when you need to get over a specific message. In NLP we call them metaphors as we generally are using these stories to get over some sort of conscious and/or unconscious message. (I’ll talk more about designing metaphors/stories at a later date.) Now before you shake your head and think, well I couldn’t start telling stories in a work presentation - ask yourself why not? You’ll find that even the most senior of people will be transfixed.
Opening stories give you the chance to catch your audience off guard by starting before they even realise you’ve started – perhaps with a story you happen to have seen in a newspaper – so they’re waiting for you to start the ‘real’ presentation and all the while you’re drawing them in to your world. Stories give you the opportunity to use a little theatre, have some fun and show your energy and enthusiasm. They allow you to make that initial connection with your audience, make eye contact and speak tothem.
Do you normally start a presentation with an agenda or summary of the points you’re going to tell your audience following the old maxim of tell them what you’ll tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you told them? Giving them that info so obviously can be dangerous as it gives your audience the opportunity to choose which parts of your talk to – sleep through, answer emails on their smart phone, chat to the person next to them or even pop out to the loo! Why not lay out your key topics in your opening stories instead?
And the trick of a good story is tell more than one – three is a great number. Start each story and then stop it at an appropriate cliff hanger, about 10 or 20% before the end and move on to the next story – as smoothly as you can. Leaving the stories ‘open’ will keep your audiences unconscious mind focused all the way through your presentation, as it’s dying to here the end of the stories. So when you close your presentation you’ll also ‘close’ you stories by telling them the last part of each one. Start with the end of your last story, then the second last and finally close with the end of your first story. Try it out and see the difference in audience attention.
2. BE PREPARED Like every good scout be prepared. A deep knowledge of your topic will lead to a simple, certain, confident and believable presentation. Keep your presentation fresh, informative and relevant to the audience. Be prepared to repeat your key messages – it’s not that we don’t get it, but we don’t all remember it the first time.
The right level of preparation is critical, but it’s a bit like wearing makeup ladies, we all slap it on in an effort to just look natural! So you don’t want to seem overly prepared or overly rehearsed. It’s great if you can learn a script word for word and repeat it verbatim to your audience, but that’s going to come over as boring, smooth and soulless and it’s going to slide right off your audience.
A great way to add that natural feel and to connect with your audience is to use something we call the charisma pattern in NLP. When you first start to talk start slow, low and almost faltering. Then move up to being more melodious and modulate your voice. Finally step it up faster with enthusiasm, energy and drive ‘great to see you all here on this wonderful day’ and you’ll have everyone with you….. The whole process takes no longer than 60 seconds.
3. FEAR SERVES NO PURPOSE So many books on presenting suggest ways to overcome fear and nerves - imagine your audience naked, practice your presentation naked, or even practice by singing your presentation. In my case, when I was a poor PhD student, I used to practice presenting to my hamster, fully clothed needless to say!
In Anxiety, What Anxiety? I gave you a great method to say goodbye to fear related to a specific event, such as a presentation, by taking action instead. Keep the thrill – a little adrenalin goes a long way – but fear is simply not required. What does it get you, nothing?
Now I usually focus on the positives and attempt to not tell you what not to do. But in this case I need to break my rule! AVOID the dreaded lectern… don’t hang on to it and don’t hide behind it – ultimately there’s nowhere to hide once you’re up there anyway. Using that lectern will put a barrier between you and your audience and will make it so much harder to build any connection.
So get out there and try out the big three – whether it’s for a big conference presentation or an in-house presentation to sell an idea. Watch and learn from great presenters and model what they do. It’s not stealing, but it is flattery if you learn from them and copy their style if it works for you. And finally whatever else happens enjoy yourself and smile – it’s amazing how your smile can light up an audience.
(Photo credit – the picture is all mine, model kindly provided by Mattel Inc.)
© Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jacqui Gatehouse and NLP THIRTEEN with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.