7 Golden rules to giving great presentations
Speaking in public ranks close to death as amongst most people’s greatest fears. Yet being able to present well is a vital skill needed to succeed in most careers.
Presentations are critical ‘moments of truth’ – where we persuade prospects to hire us, existing clients to fund new campaigns, or colleagues and bosses to support our ideas. Yet we often neglect simple rules without which presentations will fall flat and fail.
Here are the 7 Golden Rules I have learnt to ensure I give winning presentations. And the first and most important was learnt from a man who epitomised Danny Devito on crack.
The late Steve Lyons was a remarkable human being. Small in stature, he was a genuine giant of a man who touched the lives of so many young public relations executives in the 1980s and 90s during his time at Burson-Marsteller, Ogilvy PR and Motorola. Steve made you believe anything was possible, and it was his secret that helped so many of us overcome our fear of presenting.
Whenever Steve was about to present, he would first go to the bathroom, look in the mirror, and shout at his reflection: “Ok kiddo- let’s get this show on the road!” That was his secret. When it was presentation time, he would calibrate his tone, manner, pace, humour, and style for the audience.
That’s the first and most important of my 7 Golden Rules to Great Presentations:
- ‘Put on a performance’ right for your audience. Get into the groove for the executives you’re presenting to. Pitch your tone and manner with genuine sensitivity to what will ‘work’ for the audience. Presentations are about selling- about persuasion. Irrespective of your mood or normal style, make sure you give a great performance that ‘connects’.
- Rehearsing is the second golden rule to nailing presentations. Great performers know delivering a superb result every time needs constant rehearsing. Most of us ‘rehearse’ presentations by deciding in the cab ride who will present what parts. Rehearsing helps you ‘get fit’ – to find the most concise and persuasive way to get your points across. On your first rehearsal, it takes 37 minutes: second time 32; third 28 minutes! You’re now fit to sell. Rehearsing does not make you look slick- it makes you look professional.
- Memorise the first three sentences you are going to say: nerves are vital to giving great performances, but panic as your moment to speak approaches is never helpful! No matter how nervous you are, by having memorised perfectly your first three sentences, when it’s your turn to speak you know you’re going to get off to a safe start. And that’s all you need to calm your nerves and get into a groove as you wait your turn.
- Practice your ‘pass alongs’: carefully plan how you introduce the next speaker. Position the next speaker as an expert in what they are about to speak about. “I will now hand over to Michelle, who as mentioned in our introduction, was the strategic brains behind the launch of the XYZ low carb beer- which grabbed 15% market share within a month. She will now take you through our strategy to launch YOUR low carb beer.” (“Wow!” says the prospect to themselves. “She did that great campaign! I am sure going to pay attention to her.”)
- Anticipate the five toughest questions you could get: agree and rehearse answers (and who will answer which). Being ready for the worst the client can throw at you gives you extra confidence.
- Practice ‘spontaneous’ moments of humour: make presentations light and fun. Work out some moments where you can inject levity, and rehearse them.
- Sweat the details: who will greet the client, where will you have coffee, where do you want the clients to sit, where will you sit, back up if technology fails, ensure no bright external light behind your speakers as the client won’t be able to see your faces, etc.
During the actual presentation, pay attention to your colleagues. Nod your heads, laugh at their jokes, watch your prospects’ reactions, add clarification if you feel ambiguity is in the air. Be alert, while ‘putting on a performance’ of being relaxed and quietly confident and assured. Oh- and rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. It’s how Oscars are won, and ideas sold.