Put Your Best Business Foot Forward: Powerful Presentation Skills

Put Your Best Business Foot Forward: Powerful Presentation Skills

Ask the average person his or her biggest fear, and most will list "public speaking" somewhere in the top five. As a business owner or manager you probably don't have the luxury of avoiding public speaking, whether to groups, on videos, on podcasts, or even when interviewed by local media.

How do you overcome your fear? Preparation. Creating a powerful message and delivering that message requires more than fast talk or quick thinking. The key to putting your best foot forward is to think about your audience , (your employees or your customers),and targeting their needs. The goal is to address your audience's needs or interests, and hopefully solve a problem or provide solutions. Before you speak, be prepared to answer the question, "Why should I listen to what you have to say?" Focus on the benefits to your audience, not on what you want to say. The more prepared you are, the less nervous you will be. If you focus on your audience's needs, the better the reaction you will receive.

People naturally listen when you speak to their needs and interests; their attention will give you confidence and self-assurance.

Group Presentations

You may never be on television or radio, but almost everyone speaks in front of a group. Here are the basics of delivering a great presentation:

  • Be prepared. If you do not appear to have taken your presentation seriously enough to be prepared, why should your audience pay attention or care?
  • Use visuals wisely. Providing visuals simply to have visuals in your presentation is distracting and unprofessional. If a chart, graphic, or photo does not enhance your message, don't include it. Your entire presentation should be geared to maximize audience understanding; only use visuals that play a role in that effort.
  • Use handouts wisely. Pass around a handout at the wrong time and you will lose your audience. If you expect your audience to follow along, pass out the handout at the beginning of the presentation. Otherwise, use portions of the handout as visual aids during the presentation, and then pass out the handout at the end of your presentation so the audience can review it later. The audience's attention should be on you, not on the papers you hand out.
  • Stay on schedule. Your time is valuable. So is your audience's. Starting late or running late implies you do not respect your audience's time. Identify portions of your presentation you can cut, on the fly, if you feel you will run out of time. If the information you need to cut is particularly valuable, let the audience know you will send that information to them after the presentation.
  • Involve the audience. The best presentations feel like conversations between the audience and the presenter. Ask questions. Invite comments. Pause for breath occasionally to gather your thoughts and allow the audience to jump in.
  • Be willing to say "I don't know. " Standing in front of a group makes many people feel they are required to know everything and if they don't, they lose credibility. In reality the only way to lose credibility is to try to answer questions and get it wrong when you don't have enough information or don't know something. If you don't know the answer, say so. Make a mental note and send an email later with the answer.
  • Close with a brief summary. What was the point of your presentation? If you can't easily summarize what you want the audience to know or do, you don't have a presentation; you have a speech. Identify your purpose for the presentation, and close by summarizing with that purpose. If you intend to motivate, close with a motivational message. If you hope to make a sale, ask for the sale. If you are kicking off a project, close with a summary of the importance of the project and a brief outline of the next steps in the process.

Dealing with the Media

Radio, television, and print interviews are a form of presentation, even if you are only speaking to an audience of one. The same preparation and thought should go into media presentations as group presentations. But the nature of each media requires a slightly different approach:

Print: Interviews with print journalists are usually easiest for the average person. (Cameras and microphones make most people nervous.) But while you can stay more relaxed, keep in mind your message should still be on-point and carefully delivered. Take a moment to make sure you understand the question. Think about how to best frame your answer. If you are interviewed by phone, feel free to stand while you talk; you'll naturally feel more confident and energetic.

Radio: Radio is a more "personal" medium. In essence you speak to a collection of individuals; each person listens to you as if hearing a one-way conversation. You should be friendly, relaxed, and approachable. Don't be too formal; on the radio formality is off-putting. Keep in mind you can't use visual aids, even your hands or body language, to get across your message. Make sure your words are sufficient to deliver your message. (That's why preparation is the key to being effective.) Pretend you are speaking to one person, not a group.

Television: Television is a highly visual medium; how you look and act is as important as what you say. Keep your movements slow and controlled. Keep your head and body relatively still so the camera does not have to follow your movement. Speak clearly and keep in mind most television interviews are heavily-edited; try to answer all questions in one or two sentences. In short, think "sound bites" rather than paragraphs.

Lastly, keep in mind that regardless of the medium or the setting, the key to delivering an effective presentation is to be prepared and to carefully consider the needs of your audience. Prepare to satisfy their needs and your presentations will always be successful.

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