High impact presenting isn’t easy even for the most experienced speaker as there are always a few obstacles to overcome first.
It has always intrigued me how so many of us often find ourselves in positions where we say we really want to do something, we know exactly what to do and even how to do it, yet still we don’t do it.
I’m not just talking about wanting to lose weight, get fitter or rekindle a favourite pastime; I’m also referring to the desire to communicate more effectively and present with impact.
I believe that one of the most sought after leadership skills is the ability to communicate effectively and to really connect with others. As the founder of a unique presentation skills training business we work with people at all levels across all sectors every day.
We see the same enigma affecting many of our clients when we ask them the following question:
In your opinion what does it take to be a great presenter?
As you can imagine with very few exceptions the answers are lengthy, demonstrating that most of us already know what it takes to be a high impact presenter.
The second question and its responses are equally interesting.
So what’s stopping you from doing those things?
The answer to this question is much shorter.
The most common response is either, ‘I don’t really know’ or complete silence.
For a little bit of fun and to illustrate the point we often ask our workshop delegates to read the following sentence in the quiet of their own minds.
You may wish to do so too.
“Finished files are the result of years of scientific study combined with the experience of years.”
After they have read it once we ask them to read it again this time counting the number of ‘F’s’ they see in the sentence and to stand when they have a number in mind. Keep in mind that the sentence is only kept on the screen for a short while enabling them to do this.
It doesn’t matter who we do the exercise with the results are always the same.
– Some people see 3 F’s
– Some people see 4 or 5 F’s
– Some people see 6 F’s
There are of course 6 F’s although it did concern me that on one occasion a delegate insisted she saw 7 F’s!
We then ask how it’s possible that a room fully of highly intelligent, creative, responsible and talented people can each read a simple sentence and see a completely different number of F’s.
The exercise aptly illustrates that sometimes the answers are right in front of our eyes but we still don’t see them.
It’s the same with presenting and public speaking, we all know that some of the core charachteristics of effective speaking are:
– Good eye contact
– Vocal variety – the appropriate and expressive use of your voice
– Good body language, hand gestures, movement, facial expressions, etc.
– Passion and belief
– Rich and relevant content
– A strong opening and close
– A clear and powerful message
The list of course is really much longer and many books have been filled with them.
We know what good eye contact, passion and expressive body language look like together with most of these other characteristics so why do so many presenters find it so difficult to use them?
Human beings are uniquely complex and each of us may have an entirely different reason.
Practice and repetition is the mother of learning so it makes sense that if you already know what it takes, and most do, then that’s all you have to do.
In our experience, like most things in life it’s not quite as simple as that.
I’m not a psychologist or behavioural scientist but I can tell you what I’ve seen from years of training and coaching in the field.
It seems to me there are 4 core issues:
Or should I say the absence of mindfulness.
Most professionals are extremely busy being busy, fraught with the everyday pressures of deadlines and targets. That means that often the idea of giving a presentation is an interruption and inconvenience so it becomes another item on their ‘to do list’.
They fire up the laptop using the same templates, same approach, mind-set and even content they would normally use.
Leave the laptop alone for now.
Go for a long walk, sit quietly and breathe deeply or meditate if that works for you.
As you do so ponder mindfully on the following questions:
What’s my objective?
To answer that question you need to be very clear on who your audience are, how you can help them and why they should listen to and believe you. Once you have real perspective on that you then need complete clarity on what you want them to do when you’ve finished speaking.
What’s my intention?
If your intention is to simply inform or update your audience do them a favour and just send them an email or document asking them to call you if they are unsure of anything.
Intentions are about feelings.
How do you want your audience to feel the moment you’ve finished speaking. It’s feelings that drive action so give considerable and careful thought to how you want them to feel about your message.
We are all creatures of habit, many of which are extremely powerful. We don’t just have one or two we literally have hundreds including the way we think, speak and present.
Given the fact that most habits are learned from others it’s easy to see why so many business presentations are the same.
We know exactly what to do because we’ve seen others before us do it.
We also know exactly what we could do to be better but that would make us too different so it’s easier and safer to do what everyone else does.
It doesn’t have to be that way though; all it takes is the mindfulness and courage to stand out from the crowd, challenge the status quo and to be different.
Think about the way you normally prepare for, craft and then deliver your presentations. Identify the habits that currently help you and those that hinder you and make an effort to create new ones.
In a typical public presentation skills workshop we lead with 8 delegates we will often find the following levels of confidence:
– 2 People who are extremely confident
– 3 People who are extremely nervous
– 3 People who are comfortable
The extremely confident people ironically are often the ones who need the most coaching.
Much of that confidence stems from the premise that they have been presenting in different environments for many years and because no-one has ever given them any form of feedback they’ve assumed they must already be good at what they do.
As you can imagine that stifles learning a little.
The extremely nervous have already taken a significant leap of courage in the first instance by agreeing to join the workshop. I personally love working with this group because it’s my belief that confidence is not only learned but is a mind-set too.
We help countless people to change their mind-sets every week and the results are remarkable.
Despite our nervousness and anxiety when it comes to presenting and public speaking we each have a hidden depth and wealth of confidence we can tune into at any time. At Mindful Presenter we know that confidence is a major obstacle in preventing people to even speak let alone present with impact.
We also know how to help them to tune into and turn that confidence on.
The people who seem comfortable ‘on their feet’ are often the ones most open to new ideas and suggestions that could help them make an even greater impact.
An organisation’s leadership and culture are also major forces in the way in which professionals are empowered, encouraged and taught to present. Historically the most successful organisations have always been the ones with a highly visible culture of leadership by example.
When it comes to communicating, presenting in business is no exception.
The leaders who embrace an attitude and style of presenting that is modelled on connecting with others on an emotional as well as an intellectual level are fabulous role models for the rest of the organisation.
All too often we see leaders who have either neglected to develop this all important skill for themselves or have just been doing it for so long they believe they are really good at it.
A culture of highly effective communicating and powerful presenting starts at the top with the executive and senior management.
Great speakers and presenters aren’t born that way, it’s a learned skill and we know that these four obstacles can be challenged and removed for good with the right focus and training.
Mindful presenting is all about preparing, crafting and delivering your presentation with a high level of awareness. It’s about challenging the status-quo and habits to take us off auto-pilot to be the best we can be.
Despite popular belief confidence is a gift that we can each tune into with practice and if we can do so in an environment that supports us and leads by example the opportunities are endless.
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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