Seriously funny or just a joke

It’s all amusing stuff — unless you rec-
ognise yourself as the unhappy presenter. Fear of failure on the presenter’s podium can make usually eloquent people stammer in front of crowds. Learning to turn nervousness into energy and direct it in clear, powerful ways is an essential skill, whether you’re speaking to an audience of one or 1000.
Much has been written about the pitfalls of presentations and what to avoid but in the last few years there has been significant increase in material which focuses more on what to do, rather than what not to do.
John Adams, managing director of Workplace Innovation, takes Think on Your Feet workshops. Adams promises to deliver “proven techniques to organise ideas, get to the point and be remembered”. The concept is simple — clear speaking is clear thinking. “It’s not about genius but structure.
“The impromptu nature of learning how to think while doing many things has broad appeal.”

Passion play
If Professor Albert Mehrabian from the University of California is correct then that old cliche, actions speak louder than words, has more than ring of truth.
He believes that 55 percent of our impact is determined by our body language, posture and eyes, 38 percent by our voice, tone and inflection and mere It’s all amusing stuff — unless you rec-
ognise yourself as the unhappy presenter. Fear of failure on the presenter’s podium can make usually eloquent people stammer in front of crowds. Learning to turn nervousness into energy and direct it in clear, powerful ways is an essential skill, whether you’re speaking to an audience of one or 1000.
Much has been written about the pitfalls of presentations and what to avoid but in the last few years there has been significant increase in material which focuses more on what to do, rather than what not to do.
John Adams, managing director of Workplace Innovation, takes Think on Your Feet workshops. Adams promises to deliver “proven techniques to organise ideas, get to the point and be remembered”. The concept is simple — clear speaking is clear thinking. “It’s not about genius but structure.
“The impromptu nature of learning how to think while doing many things has broad appeal.”

Passion play
If Professor Albert Mehrabian from the University of California is correct then that old cliche, actions speak louder than words, has more than ring of truth.
He believes that 55 percent of our impact is determined by our body language, posture and eyes, 38 percent by our voice, tone and inflection and mere seven percent by content.
In other words, it is not what you say but how you say it. And speaking with passion is key to how you say it. Listeners relate to passion.
Maggie Eyre, senior manager training at Consultus in Auckland, shares this belief.
“To deliver dynamic presentation, you’ve got to speak enthusiastically from the heart. I’ll always remember Andrew Makin, the late chief executive of Clear Communications as an excellent role model — he combined wonderful sense of humour, passion and the ability to appear natural,” says Eyre.
The latter phrase is carefully chosen since Eyre specialises in bringing out the actor in us all.
Eyre calls on her background as an actress when she trains managers and their employees in all aspects of team building, personal development and presentation skills.
“It helps to think of yourself as an actor when you present, whether it’s one on one meeting, pitch to client or an after dinner speech to an audience of 1000. To bring about dramatic results you need to make time to prepare the body and the voice.”
Eyre recommends warm-up exercises for the body and the voice. To help get the right mental approach she suggests visualisation and affirmation exercises.
“Even five minutes of breathing techniques will energise and lift your performance. I like to hum before I give speech to ‘oil’ my voice. To improve my diction I repeat phrases like ‘red lorry, yellow lorry’. For vowel practice I say sentences like ‘Do choose the cerulean blue shoes, Shula.’” If the tongue is tense the sounds will be blocked and will not arc out of the mouth but remain trapped somewhere at the back of the throat. This phenomenon, explains Eyre, is common in New Zealand voices and underlines the need to learn vocal exercises.
KPMG chairman Alan Isaac says they’ve put number of their people through this training, and Eyre’s relaxation exercises do the trick in getting rid of nervous tension.
One way to avoid common pitfalls is to videotape presenters. Eyre says people are horrified when they see themselves fiddling with their hair, stroking their ties, standing with their hands in “fig leaf” position, saying “um” or “right” after every sentence. But these distracting traits can be eliminated when you’re aware of them.
At Rogen NZ, Nicki Kingsley tells of working with CEO on his address to 2000 employees.
“All through the rehearsal stages something didn’t seem right. The company had been through tough time and he had been brought in to fix it. His presentation was to paint vision for the future of the organisation, but there was mismatch between his body language and his speech. His gestures and posture had hard-hitting style but the speech was full of praise for the team that had made it through the slump.” The answer, explains Kingsley, was to coach the CEO in his gestures, his walk and his voice to fit more dynamic, motivational leader. “Getting the congruence between his physical self and his words made his presentation seem much more natural and hence effective.”
Workshops and methods vary reflecting the style of the coach but one thing all presentation coaches share is teaching executives to analyse their audience. Who is going to be listening? Why are they there? What motivates them? What are their needs? If you know the answers to these questions you can tailor your presentation to their needs and make positive impression.
To grab the audience’s attention right from the start Rogen’s Kingsley suggests managers open speech creatively. “It could range from well-told relevant joke, to strong visual image, reference to current topic, asking question, to getting the audience to do something.” The task of the presenter is to create change; it is not enough just to inform. By the end of the speech listeners should be clear how they can benefit from what you can offer them. What is the call to action at the end of the talk?

Questions and Answers
Can you relax when the speech is over?
For some people the worst part of presentation is the question and answer session at the end of the speech. How can you turn tough questions into opportunities? Handling questions is one of the most critical factors in establishing or destroying your personal credibility and that of your organisation. “The interesting thing is that tough questions aren’t something most people plan to ask before presentation,” says Kingsley. “Questions arise as result of what the presenter is or isn’t doing.”
Some of the reasons for asking tough questions include lack of evidence to back up claims and lack of structure — listeners have no idea where the presentation is going and get frustrated. Members ask questions to gain some clarity on the topic. Try to avoid an excessive use of jargon. Listeners will tune out, become confused and then ask questions. Poor visual aids such as slides crammed with information or type that can only be seen with microscope are annoying and listeners may convert their frustration into difficult questions. The main thing to remember when you are dealing with tough questions is never get defensive and remain professional.
Most experts in presentation skills split their time teaching managers to understand “them”, the audience, and “you”, the presenter. Don’t overlook the third part of the equation — technology. While all experts agree that presenters need to be very familiar with whatever they choose to use, most suggest that you do not

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