Presentations: Present Well or Die: Presentation skills
Professional speakers are told, “You don’t need humor in your speeches but you don’t need to get paid either!” Business professionals should be told, “You don’t need to give good presentations but you don’t need to be successful either!”
True story. Presenters for two competing companies took turns before an influential audience. One speaker basically delivered a “data dump:” mostly a lot of information. Conversely, his competitor gave data but also articulated the values, vision, and passion of his company. The contrasts were stark. One company appeared old-school, stodgy, and unimaginative. The other: energized, forward-looking, and cutting edge. The market had already begun to believe those differences between the companies. The speakers seemed to confirm it.
Another story. The former head of a state institution spoke at a high-brow Rotary Club to rally public support. Yet her speech had the emotion of a phone book. Another story: a senior executive found himself increasingly marginalized at quarterly conference calls because of struggles to express himself. And finally: a positive example. A prominent local surgeon heading an international association took the time to draft a speech that was so engaging that he got a standing ovation from more than 1000 at a San Francisco conference.
Presentations matter more than ever. Pervasive media and now YouTube are conditioning us to expect persuasive and engaged presenters. It is less acceptable for experts to present knowledge without personality or motivation. Whether on cable TV news, in the trade press or popular media, we more frequently see, hear, or read ordinary businesspeople expressing themselves well. This culture is coming to expect it and so are companies. A personal experience drove that home to me. Now, I’m NOT a presentation coach. I’m a crisis guy. I consult, coach and speak about crisis management. Nevertheless, a company representative contacted me to help an executive with his communications. I balked and did everything but hang up. I said I don’t usually do presentation coaching and plenty of others do. Yet, she was so adamant about needing assistance that she insisted that I help. Companies are increasingly less tolerant of executives who can’t present well.
This should concern you the professional and especially if you are a younger member of the business community. You simply have to learn to give good presentations. This is not a nice-to-have. It is mandatory. I believe the caliber of your business is gauged by your ability to express yourself. We are not talking large audiences necessarily, but internal presentations to boards, stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and, maybe, the press. Assuming you have a quality product/service and good business practices; your presentation competence may make or break deals.
You can’t be Jay Leno but you can get better. Get a coach, read a book, begin practicing, observe others. And the following is critical.
The presentation is about the audience, not you. Determine what benefits they need from you and find a way to provide them. Put yourself in their shoes. If you think your information is all that matters, you’re wrong. If the audience just needed data, then you could simply send it. Audiences invite or require you to present because they want to take a measure of you and, by extension, your business. A tip. When appropriate, stories or anecdotes illuminate the abstract while humanizing you.
Almost always, you are the message. Be the best message you can be. Your future and your company’s may depend upon it.