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Help For The Reluctant Presenter

Help For The Reluctant Presenter

In most fields, there comes a time when we not only must do our work, but we also have to present it. Presentations help us win clients, obtain funding, and explain data, but to a lot of people, they can be daunting.

Don't let a fear of presenting hold you back in your career. In her recent Jam SessionMeghan Dotter of Portico PR talked about how to approach presentations as more of a conversation and to become less reliant on your deck of slides.

She noted that even if you are bright and passionate about your work, presenting can cause anxiety. After all, there is nothing natural about getting up in front of your peers and colleagues and asking to be the center of attention. You can, however, become more relaxed about presenting when you shift your focus in how you approach them.

The State of Presentations

The upside of presentations is that they can be powerful. They can change the way we look at a subject, help us solve a problem or advance our ideas and our careers.

They can also be difficult, for a variety of reasons. Presentations are hard because we are asking too much of them. We give the audience too much information and we ask too much of the visuals. Too often, we use our slides as reading notes and use weak images. Instead, slides should be treated like more of an accessory.

We also ask too much of ourselves. We pressure ourselves and have lofty expectations about what we can deliver. Presentations tap into what’s called Imposter Syndrome. If we speak, then people will find out that we’re not as smart as we think we are. When you think about people questioning your credibility, a presentation may cause anxiety.

Another angle to look at is what do we think about people who actually enjoy presenting? If we have a negative bias about people who are confident and do well, it’s going to make being a good presenter more difficult.

How We Usually Get Ready For Presentations

The first thing a lot of people do is repurpose old slides. We’re saving time! We email back and forth with people about where to find an About Us slide or reformatting charts and graphics. It’s onerous.

We also write in bullet points, which is challenging because we don’t speak this way in normal conversations. There’s also the issue of visual cliches, namely, the hand shakes. It doesn’t have any meaning. If you find yourself using an image of people shaking hands in front of a globe, it’s probably time to step away from the computer.

What Makes A Great Presentation?

The most important thing to realize is that a presentation is not about you or your deck. It’s about the audience. At the end of a great presentation, a few things happen:

• Each member feels as if the speaker is talking to them. Whether they are in a room of five or five hundred, they feel as if the speaker understands them.

• The audience comes away a little bit smarter. They’ve learned something.

• The audiences know what the speaker wants them to do. There is a clear call to action. It’s not just for informational purposes. 

• The audience members feel their time was well spent. If someone feels like spending time with you was worth it, they’re likely going to want more from you. Use the presentation as a series of conversation.

Presentations aren’t a test of your knowledge. 99% of the time they aren’t to pass an exam. They’re about making your audience smarter. Keeping that in mind helps us choose what’s most important for the audience.

How Can You Go From Reluctant To Relaxed?

Think of your presentations as one part of a series of conversations.

Before: Have one on one conversations with the host. Ask them what the audience wants to know about the topic. What’s important to them? It makes the best use of everyone’s time.

If you’re addressing a large auditorium ask about what has worked well in the past? Another good question is, what’s the level of knowledge and expertise of the attendees? Who is in the room? Trade magazine can be a good resource for finding something current and newsworthy.

During: You have your remarks, your Q&A and your visuals. Remember, we don’t have to share everything we know. People won’t remember everything you tell them, but they will remember how they feel. If people feel overwhelmed, they may not come to you as a resource.

Think of it as a Venn diagram. What is the overlap between what is important to you and what is important to your audience? That’s the sweet spot that you want to hit.

If humor fits with your personality, then open with a funny line. What you want to do is get out of the gate confident, relaxed and getting to the point. You want to establish in the first minute or two what people should expect from the presentation and why they should listen. Find a way to weave in your experience so that people know they can devote time to you.

After: You have discussions, your summary documents and your surveys.

Reconsider Your Visuals

If you find that you tend to reuse your slides, try breaking up with them for your next presentation. You won’t be able to read, you’ll just have a conversation with the audience.

Research tells us that people can read faster than we speak. If you’ve done all the work for the presentation, you don’t want to lose their attention by having your audience look at other things. It’s perfectly fine to have a dark screen behind you. You might only have one or two visuals that are really important.

By freeing yourself from the visuals, you’re allowing yourself more time to think about the presentation itself and the delivery.

Note: This doesn't necessarily apply to webinars. Webinars are hard because you have no idea how people are reacting. With webinars you will need more visuals. That’s how you keep people engaged. A webinar calls for more focus and a shorter time format, as well as a way to communicate with people afterwards. Surveys and social media are all great for that.

Develop Your Presentation Persona

Presentations don’t feel natural, and so we do things during them to help us adapt, such as speaking more slowly and using more hand gestures. When we do these things we shape how people absorb our information. The content we have is one thing, how we deliver it tells people how much confidence they should have in it.

A good way to approach presentation is to watch TED Talks and adopt the mannerisms of the presenters, their body language, etc.

Think about how you want your audience to feel? Outraged by an issue? Inspired? Relaxed? Whatever you do, don’t project your anxiety on them. We control the energy of the room when we’re presenting. Emotions are infectious. If we want our audience to be relaxed, we have to be relaxed. The best way to do that is to know your material.

Strive For 5

When it comes to rehearsing, Meghan suggests five times out loud, and practice without your visuals, so that they aren’t a crutch. Ask for feedback and friends and family who aren’t in your industry. What seems too jargony to them? What’s too complicated?