Thursday, November 15, 2012

The 3 Steps to Presenting With Confidence


As a business leader or a manager of people, presenting information to groups of staff, to customers, suppliers or prospects may very well take up a large portion of your time. Communicating in this way takes practise and a willingness to share information in a way that people will easily understand.

It must come from a place of trust and integrity, which means you must be honest, authentic and congruent. By congruent I mean matching what you say in your presentation to the way you say it, and to the non-verbal messages you give out in your body language (facial expressions, stance and gesticulations.)

If your message is emotive, your audience will pay more attention to body language and voice tone than to what you actually say!

In order to present professionally you need a high level of self-confidence, self-awareness and self-belief and a willingness to improve. You need to be willing to review your own performance and to ask for specific feedback from those you trust and you must really listen (or probe further) until you have some ideas for improvement going forward.

There are 3 steps to Presenting with Confidence:

Harness your attitude.
Improve your approach.
Work authentically through your own personality.
Step 1 - Harness Your Attitude.

By harnessing your attitude I mean recognising your internal dialogue when it occurs before, during and/or after your presentation.

Be aware of what you say to yourself. What negative thoughts do you have? Thoughts like

This will be terrible

Something's bound to go wrong!

This isn't going well or

That was awful.

These thoughts affect how we feel, which in turn affects how we perform now and in the future.

So, notice your internal dialogue, become aware of it, and figure out when it's doing its worst to you - is it

As you first start to plan and prepare your presentation?
As you get nearer the date or time?
Just before you start speaking?
In the first few moments of your presentation?
A little way in - as you start to become consciously aware of your voice or the attention of the audience?
As you approach the end?
Immediately after you finish?
It may be one or more of these but knowing where and when this affects you most means you can have something positive to put in its place.

Step 2 - Improve Your Approach.

Improving your approach is about ensuring you do everything possible to fully plan, prepare and practise what you're going to say and how you're going to say it, so that you say it with confidence.

When planning you need to ask yourself the following questions:

What? Who? When? Where? Why? How?

Planning means being very clear on the purpose of your presentation and what you want the audience to take from it. This is crucial and should be the starting point for all your presentations. It often means that you work back from how you want to leave the audience (your closing.)

In fact, the open and close can be the same and they're very important points at which to generate interest.

Think about appealing to the senses, using pictures, sound, music, smell (if appropriate) as well as speaking. Explore using emotions to grab attention - state a startling fact or statistic, paint a picture in words, use a relevant quotation - anything that will help people remember your key message.

Planning also means knowing who will be attending or who needs to be included, and thinking about how best to structure the presentation.

It means putting yourself in the audience's shoes and asking WIFM? (What's In it For Me?); thinking about the questions people might ask and being prepared for them as far as possible. It doesn't mean you have to know absolutely everything, but it does mean that you have to think things through as much as possible.

When planning you need to think about how you can help people remember your key message; you can tell stories to illustrate your point, you can reiterate key points, as well as make sure you involve everyone by making eye contact, or by asking questions, if appropriate.

Emphasising points in an unusual way will also help people remember your presentation.

It's worth pointing out here that none of us are particularly good at listening, and people retain more information if they see as well as hear, and even more if they can also "do" - so do tell stories and get the audience involved as much as possible.

Once you've planned your presentation you need to prepare. This involves deciding on visual aids, handouts (if appropriate) and ensuring you have sufficient facts, figures and notes to support you.

Practising is a very good idea, particularly if you are new to presenting or it is a very important presentation. This allows you to check venue, equipment and room layout, as well as help you with the flow of the presentation (and if you're fairly new to this, it will also allow you to determine the length of time your presentation will actually take!)

Practising can also help you speak with passion and enthusiasm, as you need to be naturally interested in what you're presenting, so that it comes across in your voice. If you're not sure, try recording your voice and listening objectively - does your voice (tone and pitch, and use of emphasis and pause) match the words and convey the message you want?

If you plan, prepare and practise well so that you improve your approach, and you also harness your attitude for success by recognising your internal negative dialogue and putting something more positive and empowering in its place then you'll be setting yourself up to Present With Confidence.

Step 3 - Work Authentically Through Your Own Personality.

This final step also includes using your appearance to your advantage.

By appearance I mean more than the way you're turned out, (although it is important to dress appropriately) rather I mean that you should think about what you're doing with your face. For example:

Are you smiling or frowning?
Do you exude sincerity and trustworthiness? or
Do you appear nervous and apprehensive?
If this is something you're not really aware of at the moment, then you could practise in front of a mirror, take a video recording (nowadays it's easy to use your mobile phone to do this.)

Alternatively, you could ask for specific feedback from people you trust - either during a practice or rehearsal, or during your actual presentation.

When thinking about your natural personality you need to be aware of how you are and how you behave most of the time.

For example:

Do you naturally use humour? Is it generally focused inwards or out? Are you good at thinking on your feet and delivering one liners or puns?
How much or how little do you gesticulate during normal conversation? Some of us are very expressive with our hands and bodies, even with our faces; others less so.
Are you naturally calm and tend to stand still? Or, are you full of nervous energy and like to move around when you're talking?
I'm a great believer in working to your natural tendencies so that you're authentic and appear much more natural and confident.

It's no good trying to stand still with your weight evenly balanced and your hands clasped in front of you if you like to use your hands to emphasise points, and you like to move around!

By the same token, it's no good trying to move and gesticulate if it doesn't come naturally - you'll feel more comfortable and look more confident if you stand still.

Remember, presenting with confidence is about your ability to be as authentic as possible and appear as natural and comfortable as possible; as you would if you were just having a conversation with someone!

So, harness your attitude, think positive thoughts, improve your approach, smile at every opportunity, and be yourself. Above all, get more experience because Presenting with Confidence really does get easier with practice!

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