When faced with the prospect of having to do a presentation, it is completely normal to try and get out of doing it. Please believe me. It is even more natural, when cornered like a rat in a trap with no way out, to respond by spending days preparing a 357 slide PowerPoint show and feverishly working on it into the early hours of the morning of the day you’re due to present it. Your dazzling show with animated clipart and little aeroplanes that fly in and then explode on landing is sure to keep ’em awake! Of course, there’s no time to practice, but no worries – you can read it off with your back to the audience and breath a sigh of relief when it’s all over. So, you drag yourself to the presentation on two hours sleep (if you were fortunate) and then stress yourself into a cardiac seizure because the equipment you asked for is not there and the technician isn’t at work yet. You complete the set-up with most of your audience looking on, and finally get going 20 minutes late. Considering the start you had, you do pretty well to settle down and within 5 minutes you’re into your stride, reading off 357 slides (with your back to the audience). After all, everyone knows you’re the expert. You may also wonder why the audience have dozed off (those that are still there). Nothing wrong with you, just 337 slides too many. Now, don’t worry too much, everyone’s doing it these days, especially the managers who send their sales reps to learn how to present. If you sneezed while reading the previous sentence, go back and read it again. That is precisely why most presentations do not achieve the desired result which is to get people to take action.
Two weeks later you’re asked to do another presentation, and the boss looks surprised when you turn ghostly white, start trembling uncontrollably and begin frothing from the nose, ears and mouth. Very humiliating. I’d like to make this next point very, very clear. What I’ve just described also happens to that oke who tells such funny jokes around the table at the office year-end party. As soon as he is asked to get up and present in front of an audience everything changes. Everything.
And that’s why we need to learn practically how to do it.
No matter how good we are at speaking, we need to be trained to present. More presentations are fluffed due to “lack of training followed by experience” than any other reason. Imagine being given your driver’s licence because you got 96% for your road signs test without ever physically driving?
Any successful act you’ve seen whether on television, a show or a presentation was successful because it was well prepared and thoroughly rehearsed. And the performer will have been thoroughly trained, mentored and coached. What makes anyone think that they can pull off a presentation by winging it? The reason for our nervousness before a presentation has nothing to do with our ability whatsoever. It has everything to do with our current perceived ability to deliver, our training, our preparation and whether or not we’ve practiced enough. And when we’ve built up some positive evidence of repeated successes, we can rely on experience too.
So, what has this got to do with confidence. Well, presentation skills training is experiential. You actually do live presentations on course and yes, someone stands there with a camcorder called “George” and videos you. You learn how to structure a presentation, how to deliver it, what adjustments to make to your voice, how to dress appropriately, relaxation techniques, how to handle questions (even difficult ones), how to add power through decisive gestures, etc etc etc etc etc etc etc. You even get an attitude injection! You learn to relax. Your confidence grows.
Is this only relevant for people who regularly deliver presentations?
Let’s say you don’t do presentations yourself, but you deal with customers on one-to-one or one-to-many situations basis. Perhaps you support your great master who does the presenting. Which of the points that I’ve mentioned above do not apply to you in all aspects of your work? I bet they all do in one way or another. Learning to present brings with it an increase in assertiveness, a personal belief in yourself, and an awareness of what you do and tend to do when verbally communicating with others.
And who knows when you may be asked to step up to the podium?