Stand and Deliver: or How to Steal the Show

At recent business seminar I attended there was wide variety of speakers. Some were very nervous and self-conscious, obviously new to the game. The keynote speakers on the other hand were experienced, polished and had listeners on the edge of their seats.
So what makes stand-out speaker? How do you become high-impact presenter?
Successful presenting comes from experience, and from being teachable. Despite what many technology enthusiasts might think, making an impact is not all about “wowing” the audience with state-of-the-art presentation equipment. It’s about sticking to the basics of being yourself, and enhancing your performance by using presentation tools that are appropriate.
Barbara Rocha, California-based presentations consultant, offers simple three-step formula for successful presentations:
* Have point. One that matters to your audience.
* Take your time. You need to be comfortable with silence and deliberate pauses.
* Say it with conviction.
Rocha also makes another point to help smooth the road for presenters. “Ineffective speakers are invariably more focused on themselves than on their audience.”
Don’t try to be perfect, focus on what the audience needs to hear and be yourself. Don’t worry about “um’s” and “ah’s”. The audience is on your side. They don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable either, and they want the presentation to be positive experience. Ask yourself, “If I was in this audience, what would I want to know?” The number one priority is always to connect with the audience.

Are you connecting?
Genevieve Westcott knows all about audience connection. After 20 years of television presenting, her communication mentoring services are in demand by corporate executives, business people and government agencies. According to Westcott, even the heads of large corporations, while skilled at managing their enterprise, often struggle when it comes to communication, either one-to-one or one-to-many. “These people could be so much better if they just took some coaching. Even the best presenters have coaches.”
Westcott remembers one senior executive who stood up to address group of colleagues at business breakfast and proceeded to read from thick wad of notes for 40 minutes, while his assistant ran the accompanying PowerPoint presentation. “It was classic example of not connecting with the audience.”
She prefers the minimalist “low-tech” approach when applying presentation technology. Technical glitches spoil many potentially good presentations. “The biggest secret of success is to be human. Know your message so well that it’s locked into your brain. Look people in the eye, and be prepared to ask questions to ensure audience participation. It’s all about interaction,” she says.
But fundamental competency to present is not enough to inspire an audience to take action, says Wilson Hull, senior consultant for Rogen New Zealand. high level of confidence and persuasiveness is also necessary. “Senior executives and CEOs must go beyond good rational argument to connect with an audience. They must persuade, reassure, motivate and inspire staff and customers on more emotional level.”
At leadership communication coaching clinics facilitated by Rogen after last year’s September 11 terrorist attacks, senior executives from affected companies acknowledged that they needed specialist help to effectively communicate in crisis.
Maggie Eyre, senior manager training for Encore Communications, agrees that the basics are the key to effective presentations and advises clients to be spontaneous yet relaxed, keep it short and simple (never run over the allotted time), and… practice! “Never assume that the audience understands particular industry jargon, and when speaking overseas be careful with slang, diction and accent.”
Eyre says ‘presence’ is the latest buzzword, and people are expected to have it. “It’s about radiating the true you, not being afraid to share your ideas, and speaking out in confident manner. It’s about showing your passionate self, your enthusiasm for life.” Producing winning presentation requires natural delivery, strong voice, interesting content with clear, well articulated messages, and interesting visual aids.
Content is crucial. It can often be spiced with relevant stories, analogies, or jokes. Outstanding or memorable speakers invariably sell their message with lashings of relevant and relatable stories. It’s the presentation trick used by many of the world’s great communicators. word of caution however. If you are not naturally funny, it is often better to avoid humour or jokes altogether. “The ultimate test is whether they remember the message, even if they can’t recall your name,” says Westcott. “And remember, it doesn’t matter how knowledgeable you are, absolutely nobody has the right to bore their audience!”

How’s your persuasive technique?
It doesn’t matter if your presentation is to the general public, room-full of sales reps, or convention of technicians, according to Alex Chan, CEO of Advantage Training & Consulting, you’re “doing sell”. “Whichever way you look at it, you are persuading the audience to embark on specific course of action,” he says. “In order to do this, you need to understand your audience by carrying out prior research. Ask questions, establish the objectives, and propose solution.”
If the object of the presentation is to sell product or service, then cost benefits should be proven. “There are usually ways to prove any ROI in presentation and that should form significant part of the presentation. Without exception, astute business people in your audience will want to know the effect that product or service has on the bottom line,” says Chan.
The primary objective of any sales presentation is to get decision, preferably while you’re still there. When standard closing techniques don’t cut it, Chan suggests the walk-out technique. “At the end of the presentation, pass around the sales pack (he recommends suitably labelled CDs) and then leave the room so they can talk it over for five to 10 minutes. This way you retain control and you have the right of reply to any questions or concerns when you come back.” The worst that can happen is the questions come earlier. The most common outcome is mutually satisfactory agreement signed week or so later.

Technology: enhancer or distraction?
Presentation technology should be chosen carefully so it doesn’t alienate the audience or get in the way of the message. Gavin Millynn, marketing manager for presentation technology consultants ProVision, believes appropriate hardware, software and multimedia content “is often an underestimated factor in effective communication. Just as you would tailor-make presentation for particular audience, so the appropriate technology infrastructure should be used to communicate well. What to use should be based on the audience and the environment.”
For instance, younger audiences invariably require visually and dynamically oriented, multimedia presentation, says Millynn. “You can add value to your presentation with tasteful multimedia, such as video and pictures. An often overlooked way of applying technology in many speaking situations, especially with visiting presenters, is to record the presentation using video camera and electronic whiteboard. This provides resource that can be used again and again, and gives presenters unbiased feedback.”
Millynn reminds more “mature” presenters that in their desire to meet the expectations of younger audiences they must realise that experience does not equate to knowledge when using more sophisticated presentation technology. “Nothing turns an audience off more than someone who does not know how to use the technology. Technical ignorance paints the presenter in less than professional light. Mastering PowerPoint, for example, is not enough. The timing and delivery of this material is different skill entirely.”
Executives who have been around wh

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