Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Unleash Your Inner Presenter

They make it look so effortless, those suave presenters. They look so relaxed, even when addressing a conference attended by a billion world-renowned experts in their fields. A casual wave of the hand on one occasion, an inspiring stare at another - what is it about these so-called natural presenters that keeps the audience wrapped around their fingers? How do some people manage to capture their audience better than others? What is it that they have that others don’t?

If you’re the kinds to avoid every opportunity to present, this post is for you. If you think you can’t speak in public, and you feel that’s a job better left to the ‘natural’ presenter, this post is for you. If you're 'the reluctant presenter', this post is for you.

Give it time

I’m just going to say it - no one is a 'natural’ presenter. Presenting effectively, to a room full of people isn’t easy and surely doesn’t come without practice. What we see for thirty minutes on a stage, is actually the result of hours in front of the mirror, or several debates and speeches given in college. Some of the best speakers have acted in theatre. All these activities have worked collectively in instilling that confidence in the speaker. Can’t really call this ‘natural’, can we?

So what this means is, all we, the lesser presenters have to do is, catch up on lost time. Don’t even think you can leave it all for the last minute and pull it off. Sure, you might manage a decent performance, but will you be living up to your true presenter potential? One word - Nope.

Find conviction

Get busy and start with your homework. Read, read, then read some more. Try to get as many points of view on the subject as you can so that your final content is comprehensive and informative. Don’t give up on your content till you are convinced by it. How will you go out there and speak effectively about this product or idea if you are not convinced by it? Question and counter-question. Find all the loop holes so that you are ready to answer any possible questions about the subject of your presentation. It’s all in the mind much before it is in front of an audience. Conquer that, and half your battle is won.

Once all your content is in place - wait for it - cut it by two-thirds. Yeah, you read it right. The art of presenting is effective editing. So chop, chop, chop. Delete repetitions, simplify everything, avoid jargon. Become one with the audience. Ask yourself, what would be the simplest way to communicate to someone who knows nothing about it? Now do that, in thirty seconds.

Become best friends with your presentation software

Now that you know what you’ll be presenting, look for a suitable presentation software to help you simplify your presentation further. Don’t think you don’t need one. No, don’t make that mistake. Everyone needs some help, champ! Presentation softwares are like aids - they add the visual impact to your speech (not that you’re not gorgeous enough). You’ll be surprised how much these tools will help you to edit your presentation further. Just remember that the slides you create are only part of your presentation and not the whole presentation, so no reading off the slides, please. Let the tool you choose become your best friend, be familiar with it and let it help you through your presentation.

Mirror, mirror on the wall

There is no alternative to practice. Rehearse the words you’ll say, rehearse the pauses, even rehearse the jokes you plan to say. Notice what your limbs are doing while you talk. Are you hand gestures adding to your presentation or distracting people from it? Did you just put your hand in your pocket? You don’t want to seem too casual. Listen to your voice. Listen for the fillers - the umms, the stammering, the overuse of a pet phrase. Do you have a nervous word or phrase like ‘you know’ or ‘like’, or ‘sort of’? Become aware of these distractions and then consciously do away with them.

A word of caution here: don’t over-rehearse. Rehearsing should enhance your confidence and allow you the presentation to flow naturally. Sounds like a contradiction? Strangely, it’s not. How do you test whether you’ve rehearsed just the right amount? I know I’m ready when I start focusing less on what I’m about to say, and am fully aware of what I’m saying in that moment. When I’m in the present and I am aware of what’s going on around me. This kind of calmness only comes when you are 100% sure of what you want to say.

Request feedback

Trust your colleagues and friends to give you feedback. Notice I say colleagues and friends and not or, reason being the perspective your colleagues will give you will be a lot more educated in terms of the knowledge of the subject, your friends will tell you what they derived from your presentation from a layman’s perspective. This experience will also give you a feel of what it would be like to present in front of an audience.

Use your nervous energy to energise

Nervous energy sounds like a terrible phrase but I have found that it’s not a bad thing. If you use it well, it can help you, your presentation and your audience. For instance, movement cuts the excitement and helps your nerves calm whereas standing still, in one place can make you even more nervous. Presentations are even more interactive when the presenter claims the space on the stage, moves around a bit, instead of standing behind a podium like a statue. The audience immediately relates to the presenter more, and is forced to be attentive because of the movement.

Nervous energy can bring a great amount of energy into your presentation. Just visualise your success and let the good times roll. Your hard work and preparation will find a way to calm your nerves. But energy is not the enemy, energy is good, it shows you’re interested in talking to the people, it shows you’re passionate about the subject and it exudes enthusiasm from you, into the audience. Just get out there and smile your widest smile and let the energy flow.

It's not magic!