Tips for Better Presentation Delivery
We’ve called upon our resident presentation delivery expert, Sharon Merrill President David Calusdian, to teach us to become better speakers – whether at meetings, in investor conferences, or during more personal settings. This four-part conversation provides a taste of the good, and bad, habits of executive presenters, with a few tips for improvement along the way. Today’s post is the finale in the series.
- The Podium: Well, David. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for, when you share your deepest secrets on delivering effective presentations. Only joking! But on a more serious note, what are the most common mistakes that you’ve seen presenters make over the years?
DC: Let’s start with nervous habits. Nervous speakers often will fidget or fiddle with anything. The reason for this is that many people do not know what to do with their hands. Some put their hands in their pockets, making them look stiff. Others fiddle with the keys in their pocket, a pen, a wedding ring, or other jewelry.
- The Podium: What does it mean?
DC: It’s a bad habit, and it sends a nervous signal to the audience.
- The Podium: Got it, thank you. Related to this, we often hear that speakers should not pace. Why is that?
DC: When you get out from behind the podium, some people stand in one spot, while others walk around. But presenters need to be certain they aren’t just pacing back and forth repeatedly, or shifting nervously from side to side. Neither of those actions send positive signals to the audience.
- The Podium: What actions can we implement to improve our presentations then?
DC: One goal when presenting is to have a good “executive presence.” Your posture has a lot to do with that presence. Stand up straight, throw your shoulders back, and act like you own the room. That comes across so much more confidently than if you’re slouching as you speak.
- The Podium: For much of this series, we’ve focused on speakers who are standing. What about speakers who are sitting, as in a meeting or on a discussion panel? Should they do anything differently?
DC: First, when sitting, you usually have a table in front of you. In this case, you should lean forward, toward the table. Once you assume that position, though, you should maintain it. For instance, if you’re leaning forward for most of a presentation, and you suddenly lean back when someone asks you a question, that can be a signal that you’re uncomfortable with the question – or even being deceptive.
- The Podium: So, which is more important, leaning backward or the change of position?
DC: You really need to know someone’s baseline body language to be able to read them effectively. Let me give you an example. I was at an investor meeting with a CFO – he was sitting forward, very engaged. And then an investor asked him about a part of the business that wasn’t performing well, and he casually sat back and folded his arms. The change was abrupt! Body language changes like this can be picked up sub-consciously by the audience, and certainly by anyone with body language training.
- The Podium: Have you ever met people who say they’re just naturally good speakers?
DC: Some are, and there are certainly different skill levels. But even people who are naturally gifted still need to practice to be at their best when in the spotlight. There are no shortcuts, and I see the truth in that during the trainings we do here at Sharon Merrill regularly. Even the very best speakers out there– think Barack Obama or the late Steve Jobs – continue to work extremely hard to be at their best during every presentation.
- The Podium: So, what do you say to people who don’t want to practice and just want to read a script?
DC: Reading directly from a script is rarely the best situation. When I see a speaker, I expect them to know their material and to be an expert in what they’re talking to me about. So, from a credibility perspective, I question why you would need a script. Of course, there are situations where your legal team may require you to use a script so that you can be extremely precise in your language – like a quarterly earnings conference call.
- The Podium: What does script-reading communicate?
DC: You look like an anchor on the 6 o’clock news when reading directly from a script. To extend the metaphor, we know that news anchors are not experts on today’s news; they’re just reading from a teleprompter. This is an important point: anyone can read a script! And, if you are presenting on your topic of expertise, you want people to understand that you’re an expert. At the same time, you shouldn’t take this as a reason to not prepare. You do need to prepare your materials in advance. And, to be a great speaker, you need to practice your materials well enough to sound natural. People sometimes say, “I don’t want to have something prepared in advance, because I don’t want to sound scripted.” Well, in such a case, your presentation may not sound scripted, but it will definitely lack professionalism and, more often than not, come across like amateur hour. You need to have something prepared and then practice it enough so that you sound both natural and dynamic.
- The Podium: It seems like knowing your material well enough allows you to focus on the other aspects we’ve been talking about.
DC: Exactly. I don’t recommend to anyone that they memorize a “script” for an entire presentation. It’s just not realistic. And often when someone tries to do that, they will inevitably miss one word and that can throw off their entire presentation. However – presenters should know the key messages for each of their slides extremely well. Then they’ll be able to focus on sounding highly conversational as well as perfecting their body language at each stage of the presentation.
- The Podium: This is our final question, the one we all really want answered. What is the risk of not being a good speaker?
DC: It’s all about credibility. Many presenters spend inordinate amounts of time developing materials and then they don’t really think about what they’re going to say or spend time rehearsing. In these situations, the delivery, which is where most of the content is and what the audience is actually paying attention to, is lost. Especially in today’s world, where we are all fighting with smart phones and other technology for attention, you need to capture your audience’s attention.
You have to have a great delivery, or else your messaging won’t get through, you won’t come across as credible, and your presentation will fail to persuade the audience. The good news is that there are proven techniques to help you improve, regardless of if you’re an expert or just starting out.