When we hear or see the word “presentation,” visions of formal attire, PowerPoint, critical audience, sales pitches and frazzled nerves come to mind. But is this the one and only recipe? Let’s unpick this a little. What is a presentation really? A presentation is “a specifically defined period of time to convince an audience of an idea, concept or product.” You will notice that none of the words above even appear in this definition. Let’s be clear about this. A presentation is not a recital, and it’s not a talk. To recite is to read or repeat by heart, and a talk, broadly speaking, can be defined as conveying information verbally. The key phrase under the presentation definition is “convince an audience”. Therefore, it should already be clear to you that there are a great many misconceptions about what constitutes an effective presentation (or one that achieves its goal).
1. Your goal. It may be to close a deal. Alternatively, you may have a long term goal in establishing credibility, so the initial goal may or may not be an immediate sale. Decide, and be clear about your main objective.
2. Convince. You want people (your audience) to believe you and be sufficiently impressed by what you say that they take some action on your recommendations. Whether or not they are impressed by your visuals is largely irrelevant. (Great slides, but no idea what he was on about!)
3. Audience. This can be one or a multitude of people, one or many decision makers. If you’re not trying to convince them to do something, or not to do something, it isn’t a presentation. (For instance, announcing the company results to the board or shareholders is often referred to as a presentation. It is, if it’s trying to get these people to accept the results, otherwise it’s really more of a “road show”). The key to your success will be to understand who your audience is and what their needs and/or problems are, particularly the ones you are in a position to fulfil or solve.
4. Attire. Presentation skills and training in grooming will rightly recommend the best business attire for maximum impact. But this is only applicable to certain audiences. Your success will be heavily dependant on your ability to make the members of your audience, particularly the key decision makers, feel at ease. Sometimes a more casual mode of attire will yield better results than a suit.
5. Your tools. PowerPoint is a useful visual aid, but a disastrous one if used incorrectly. Props used cleverly can also have a great impact and make your presentation memorable. But your dominant tools are your body language, including your facial expressions and eye contact, the tone and use of your voice and the structure of your content. It may be appropriate to lean on a lectern or sit on a desk. Depending on the nature and mood of your audience this could be what’s needed to break the ice or establish rapport, so rule-breaking is not necessarily taboo!
Attending my first presentation skills course back in 1992 was one of the most empowering experiences of my life. I learned what was written in the rule book. I gained in self esteem, learned to be more self assured, and was truly amazed by the sheer number of things I needed to know, and be able to do in order to come across confidently and convincingly.
But I also discovered as I started implementing these skills that the rule book is just the set of guidelines to be drawn on as appropriate, not to be stuck to rigidly. When you present, you draw on the arsenal of weapons available to you, you don’t necessarily have to use the whole lot at once! Perhaps the most useful tool of all is intuition!
Presenting is all about the creation of rapport and the establishment of trust. After all, who do you take advice from and buy from? Surely it’s people you trust?
So if you can make the establishment of trust your key focus area instead of “making an impression” (useful for exhibitions!), it could significantly change your approach towards preparing for your next “presentation”. Impressions are good for memoirs. Success is good for business.
If you prepare for success, it’s success you will most probably get.