Presentation Skills

One of my recent ad hoc jobs has been assisting in the Columbia University graduate business school, coaching on presentation skills and strategic messaging.

I don’t want to give away all of my tips and tricks. But here’s some of what I’ve learned and taught.

  1. Plant your feet to make a point
  2. Make eye contact
  3. Breathe
  4. Be prepared, but not memorized
  5. Put it in a story form
  6. Show the benefits to your listener
  7. Use emotion

Let me explain what I mean by all of these. I’ll use myself as an example.

  1. Plant your feet and make your point. Don’t wander around. Don’t fidget with a pen either. I need to remember this. I’m a passionate person, and so I like to really emote! That’s fine (see #7). Sure, move out from behind the podium, but move on the pause, and stop when you speak. Plant your feet. You can move as you think. But stop when you talk.
  1. Look ’em in the eyes for several sentences. Six (?) years ago, when Hilary Clinton was
    Barack Obama
    Barack Obama (Photo credit: jamesomalley)

    debating Barack Obama, I noticed Hil scanned the crowd as she talked. Her eyes hopped from person to person. Not Barack. No, he spoke several sentences to one person, then moved his gaze to another person. Like #1, don’t wander – not even with your eyes. Fix your gaze on one person. Make sure they get your point and then focus on another person’s eyes.

I sometimes look up when I’m thinking. I do that on the pause. Then, I have to remember to look down and make eye contact when I talk.

  1. Breathe. A breath brings inspiration. Take time to think things through. I tend to talk fast. And so I get breathy and soft-spoken. When I take time to breathe, I’ve got fuller authority. I’m more centered. When you’re making a presentation, take time to inhale. Then, speak on the exhale.

4. Know your stuff. When I’m watching Shark Tank, I can tell that people who have memorized their whole pitch. If they lose their place, they’re lost. They only really need to know the salient points – their numbers, their benefit to the user, their unique factors. They don’t need the verbatim script, they need to speak just the basics.

5. Make a story. Everyone loves a beginning, middle, and end. Put your presentation in a story form — perhaps, a context of overcoming great odds. Or making the story about a heroic journey. You were lost and now you’re found. These story types are so primal and so inspiring. Everyone loves a narrative arc.

6. Show the benefit. I realized people were a bit self involved the first time I had skin cancer. I blogged about it. In conversations, people would ask me, “Does this mole look like yours looked?” People weren’t asking, “How are you feeling? What’s the latest?” No, they were telling me how they were feeling. All people are basically self-interested.

If your presentation is relevant to people, they will be interested. If you can help people learn about themselves or help them make money, then they’ll be into your presentation. I love inspiring people to learn about themselves. It’s why I love coaching writing.

7. Emote. Don’t be afraid to laugh, cry, admit that you don’t know something in your presentation. It’s all part of the human experience. People will remember what you say when you are passionate, but they may not remember your dry facts and figures.

Give yourself away. Go deep and don’t be afraid to be human. Get real.

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