Presenting like a professional speaker

Despite the fact we are living in the age of the Internet, email and other non-personal forms of communication, one thing that has moved people, delivered value for thousands of years is the speech by a single person at the right time, with the right message.

One of my most asked questions is “ how do you present like a professional speaker?”. To present like a ‘pro’ you may need to rethink how you approach the whole issue of presentation. SO this article is not for someone who is new to this game, but someone who is already regularly giving presentations and wants an extra edge.

1) Challenge how you structure your presentation

Most dreadful corporate presentations are what they are because presenters feel they need to share as much information as possible. Worse, there’s no clarity on what their segment is supposed to do in the overall meeting objectives. Typically, the two biggest comebacks I get is “ David, my material is very dry and serious” and the other is” I’, supposed to give them an update”. Wrong approach! If you want to share some data, create a PowerPoint deck as a handout. For the actual presentation, focus on no more than 3 points in a half hour and 5 points in the next. Do not use large flow charts, bar graphs unless they can be seen easily from the audience and have no more than 3 – 4 key pieces of information on the screen. The focus should be – “why should they care”. You are not an updater of information, you are up there to make some sense of the numbers, highlight future pitfalls, most interesting developments and why it matters

As for the former matter about “dry material”, consider how the late Steve Jobs became a master of the technology presentation. He built up the tension, drew narrative with clear villains (IT challenges, market problems, competitors) and heroes ( Apple, their philosophy, the voice of the customer). When introducing the world’s slimmest laptop, the MacBook Air, he didn’t describe millimeter thicknesses, RAM, bus speed or any of that at all. He just received a plain brown envelope on stage, slid out the new laptop to the aahs and oohs of the crowd.
What props and metaphors do you use? A strong PowerPoint slide usually just has one visual, one line of information of infographic and you’re telling them why it matters.

2) Story sequencing

Instead of presenting What (our results, revenues etc), How (how we will move ahead) and Why (why this is good for our business etc), consider using this stronger framework of Why (why are we ding what we are doing, including the changes coming up), What (what will happen when we do this, and then How * this is how we will execute our plans). The new sequencing drives to the core of the reasons people want to listen to you (if they care at all). If you can secure this aspect, all else flows from it.

3) Presentation stickiness

One of the best books ever written on how to design a presentation that’s memorable is “Made to Stick” which was published about five years ago. Based on Stanford University professor Chip Heath’s research in this specific area, the book suggests that if we can fulfill just 4 of the six key elements in a presentation, we can vastly improve the return on investment of our audience. Have you ever been to a conference where an hour after a speaker has spoken you can hardly recall anything? Imagine the gross waste of man-hours if the conference had been attended by a hundred people. And yet, so many conferences are just like that. I deliver 70 paid engagement worldwide annually; I should know.

These elements are 1) getting to the core of the subject or issue, 2) build a great hook by adding a mystery or puzzle behind it; for example, showing a great topline stream of revenue but a perplexing lack of a solid bottom line when presenting a set of financial numbers. 3) use concrete examples; so, “300 metres long” works less well than “ 3 football fields long”. 4) build credibility behind your proposal or intent – perhaps backed by experience, reputation statistics, research et al. 5) touch their emotions – make them feel like they care about the eventual outcome and 6) build stories on which your points will hang, And remember – no more than three key points for a half hour presentation.

4) Every organization has a narrative, so use it to your advantage.

As a presenter, you should know your audience well enough to introduce a fresh narrative or build on an ongoing one. Perhaps it’s a comeback story of the organization, replete with obstacles, heroes, villains and so on. Who can the audience root for, who can they boo, Stories begin on a storyboard with an introduction, a necessary tension that has to create a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, and suspense. And then finally, a resolution. Such a story arc can encompass the classic David –and-Goliath nature – think Virgin Airlines in their early days taking on expensive, poor-value, legacy carriers led by a swashbuckling rebel (Richard Branson). There’s the Challenge plot; with consumers being won over by the underdogs, Macintosh, fighting against the “dark forces” represented by vanilla-bland Microsoft. And so it goes on.

For every 30 minutes of new content to present, consider plotting, planning, rehearsing and delivery time investment of at least 3 hours. Good luck in speaking like a pro from the stage.

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