Presentation skills are a major contributor to personal success in business today providing the platform to influence, persuade and even inspire others. The days when the need to present well were useful or important have are long gone;today it’s essential.
If you haven’t experienced it yet I’m certain you will soon.
Unfortunately despite its significance, presenting remains the source of one of the greatest anxieties professionals still face today.
Over the course of the next few weeks we will be presenting you with a step by step guide to overcoming some of the biggest obstacles professionals face which hold them back from becoming high impact and persuasive presenters; Mindful Presenters.
It’s not something most of us were taught to do
In the same way that most of us weren’t schooled in how to raise a child or deal with bereavement effectively public speaking wasn’t high on anyone’s agenda either. I still remember that sense of panic and foreboding the first day I cradled my newly born son in my arms as I brought him home from the hospital; what on earth was i supposed to do now?
Whilst in a completely different league, I didn’t know how to handle my first presentation either.
When it comes to presenting and speaking in public it doesn’t help that there are a large number of hurdles to overcome before many can be comfortable with the idea and make the impact they need to.
Here is the first of many hurdles we teach people at Mindful Presenter to overcome every day.
Most people call it confidence.
70 percent of the people we train and coach tell us that one of the most important areas they would like to address is feeling more confident on their feet. That’s not at all surprising given my opening remarks.
Imagine wandering around the planet for your first 20 or 30 years of life never having to stand in front of a group of adults to speak . Then suddenly the spotlight is firmly on you with an audience of wide-eyed people listening to your every word with the hope and expectations for you to impress them.
There is a great deal you can do to help you feel more confident on your feet; here are just a few key suggestions.
One of the greatest mistakes professionals make in business presentations is crafting their message without mindful consideration to:
– Why they are presenting in the first place
– What’s so important that they can’t just send them an email
– Who their audience really are and what help they need
– What their key message is and what value it will offer their audience
– What they want them to think
– What they want them to do
– What they want them to feel
In answering those questions explicitly the presenter is able to focus their attention exclusively on their audience rather than on themselves which is often the greatest cause of anxiety.
There are no shortcuts when it comes to preparation:
– Knowing what you want to say is of course one thing but then you have to decide what content will help you to say it effectively. Thinking like a ‘tweet’ will go a long way to help you prepare your content in a way that is concise, complete and compelling.
– It’s extremely unwise to begin any part of the preparation process until you have done all that you possibly can to know who your audience are. Go out of your way to learn and understand as much as you can about them.
– On separate notes write down in under 140 characters your message, what you want them to think, feel and do.
– Now write down everything you could possibly include to help you achieve the goals noted on your post it notes.
– Walk away completely from your wall of post it notes for at least 24 hours.
– Go back to you notes and discard every note which doesn’t add considerable value to your objective.
– You can’t tell them everything so cluster your ideas into groups.
– From each of the ideas you now have in each group, decide which one or two things will add the most value to your goals.
– List these in order of importance and value as sub-messages
– Alongside each sub-message add your supporting points. Facts, evidence, insights, research, etc.
– Write down everything you could do to bring your key message and sub-messages to life while delivering your supporting points. It may be using, stories, anecdotes or metaphors. Perhaps using videos, compelling images or props. You may even want to build in some surprises, drama, suspense or humour.
– Write down what you can do that’s different to enable you to totally capture your audience’s attention. Your job is to make them interested and curious the moment you begin speaking.
– Write down what you can say and do to close your presentation to ensure that your message has been received and understood and that you leave your audience feeling the way you intend them to.
– Now you can open your laptop to begin putting it all together.
Once you have absolute clarity on why you are presenting and have crafted and constructed your content in that knowledge it’s time to practice.
When it comes to presenting it’s our perception that creates our reality.
After all, the greatest asset we have as human beings is our minds through which we all know we can create heaven or hell for ourselves in an instant. For many the very idea of presenting to an audience can be perceived as hell.
How you perceive yourself and your audience is of critical importance.
It’s very easy to see yourself as prey and your audience as predators when the spotlight is on you. Unhelpful thoughts such as:
‘What if I forget what to say and look stupid?’
‘They’ve probably heard it all before or know even more than I do’
‘They’ll see how nervous I am by the way my neck turns red, legs shake….’
‘What if they lose interest?’
‘My voice will tremble and I always say err and umm…’
‘What if they ask me a question I can’t answer?’
The fact is that all of the above are possibilities but then when you leave your house to drive to work in the morning so is the question:
‘What if an oncoming driver crosses over the white lines and hits my car?’
All you can do is remain on your side of the road and believe that the other drivers will stay on theirs which is mostly always the case.
The presenter however has far greater control and the vehicle to that control resides within the mind and how we use it when preparing and delivering our presentation. The challenge is to change the unhelpful thoughts to helpful ones:
– I have something important to share that will really help my audience
– My audience are on my side, they are here to simply learn
– They just want to hear how I can help
– I’m so passionate about this message
– I’ve prepared and practiced thoroughly and my audience will see that
As incredible as our minds may be the one thing that often hinders our performance is the ‘noise’ it makes.
Research suggests that we each have tens of thousands of thoughts each day, that many of them are recycled repetitive thoughts and many are also negative.
For the anxious presenter that’s not very reassuring but it is useful to know. The fact that we know this enables us to face up to the challenge of denouncing the noise and taking time out to find a little peace from the chaos.
A great way to slow down and filter the noise to allow space for clarity and harmony is to practice meditation.
It’s one of the presenters’ greatest gifts as it not only quietens the mind but consistent practice enables the presenter to have and convey far greater presence when they begin to speak. It’s a very simple and powerful process:
– Sit down in a comfortable position where you won’t be disturbed.
– Close your eyes and notice your breath as you breathe in and out.
– Each time your mind wanders bring your attention and focus back to your breath.
Imagine you were at a networking event or some other social gathering where you didn’t know anyone at all and felt very anxious about approaching others to introduce yourself.
Now imagine what confidence looks like to you on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 representing the lowest level of confidence and 10 the highest.
What if I asked you to play along with me for just a few minutes and wander around the room as though you were an 8, 9 or even 10 on that scale of confidence?
What would you do to demonstrate that confidence?
My guess is that you would stand tall, shoulders relaxed, head up taking meaningful strides around the room. You would make eye contact with people smile, use your arms to gesture and breathe deeply.
If I asked you to wander around the room as a 2, 3 or 4 on that confidence scale you would also know just what that looks like and know exactly what to do.
Once you have absolute clarity of your purpose for presenting, you’ve prepared, practiced, looked at things differently and the given your mind a little peace it’s time to choose a number.
You don’t have to go to RADA for years to learn how to act as your conscious and subconscious mind already knows exactly what it takes for you to make yourself look confident. Not only is it something you can tune into in an instant, you will find that once you practice making yourself look confident the feelings will soon come flooding along with it.
Watch out for the next hurdle to high impact presenting which we will be sharing soon.
If this article has inspired you to learn a little more about how effective your presentation skills are you may want to take a look at our presentation training and presentation coaching pages to see how we may be able to help you. You will also find a great deal of really helpful ‘free’ information in our Learning Centre.
Image: Courtesy of flickr.com