The holiday season for me invariably means two things: I’m placing truckloads of Amazon orders and finalizing my preparation for a packed calendar of first quarter speaking engagements and retail workshops. I enjoy this annual ritual, because it’s my runway to the upcoming year. Preparing my clients arms them (and me!) for what’s ahead.
Of course, I'm not the only one in prep mode this time of year. Yesterday I provided some coaching to a colleague who is slated to give an executive presentation to a group of about 250 peers next week. My own advice and guidance for her reminded me of many things I’ve learned and internalized over years of speaking and training.
GIRL TO GREAT MANDATES
The following self-taught tips and truths have served me well, yet you won't find them in most presentation development resources. I hope they will inspire you to prepare and present with confidence in 2017.
- The audience is rooting for you – Most presenters secretly believe that the audience is against them, waiting for the slightest error or gaff to prove what a crappy presenter stands before them. Actually, the opposite is true, and it shouldn’t matter that it’s largely due to the audience’s self-interest. They are perfectly willing to listen to some pretty boring litanies and shrug off all but the most egregious blunders for a couple of reasons: they don’t like being uncomfortable any more than you do, and they would rather believe that they made a good decision by investing their time (and hopefully cash) in you. They want you to succeed, so your job is to prove them right. Accept their good will, and then build upon it. When your goal is to not screw up, your results will be unspectacular. When you feel the audience’s love from the start, then shamelessly go for seconds, your output is elevated.
- Nervousness can look like anger – How many times have I attended panels populated by surly contributors and presentations in which the speaker seemed downright hostile? More than I can count. Luckily, some of those folks have been friends and clients, so I’ve had the opportunity to ask them what the deal was. In every single case, the presenter had no idea they were coming off like a jerk but copped to having a bad case of nerves. The lesson here is two-fold: don’t be too harsh on those irked-out experts in your midst – chances are, they’re just redirecting their jitters. More importantly, do everything that you can to loosen up, smile, and pretend that you’re having a good time when you’re on the dais. Soon enough, your mood will lift, and you might even wish it hadn’t ended so soon. If you feel that you’re being a bit over the top, you’re probably in your sweet spot. Remember, good humor conveys confidence like nothing else can.
- Lack of preparation stems from lack of confidence – Common wisdom says that you won’t have confidence if you don’t prepare, but I’ve very often witnessed a strange dynamic that proves the reverse: unconfident people often shrug off preparation. I’ll get a request from a client or friend to help them prepare for an upcoming presentation. They are thrilled and relieved when I accept. Then… crickets. They’ll come up with every possible distraction and reason why rehearsals need to be cut short, rescheduled or called off altogether. When their presentation is a hot mess, they’ll vow to rehearse “next time.” Unconfident people look for excuses to fail. Confident people prepare because they expect to do well. They’ll accept nothing less!
- You’re not afraid, you’re excited – No, really, you are – or you could be. The feelings of fear and excitement are so similar, why not just pick the one that works best? The night before my presentations, I tell myself (and anyone who asks) that I’m excited and pumped up and can’t wait to get up on stage. The morning of my presentation, I behave as though I’m going to a party in my honor. I listen to music that revs me up, I greet people in the hotel and event venue with enthusiasm, and the next thing you know, I’m carrying the mood right up to the stage and through my presentation. When people ask me, “Don’t you get nervous?” I always reply, “No, I get excited,” and I’m telling the truth.
- Q&A is your big moment – In my experience, there are three types of presenters: Those who dread Q&A, those who think it’s optional and those who relish it. As you might guess, I fall into the last category, and I hope to convince you to adopt that attitude too. A middling presentation can be redeemed by a great question-and-answer session. The slickest, most perfectly-performed presentation can end on an even higher note when the presenter deftly navigates Q&A. When you address spontaneous questions, you demonstrate that you can go off script and think on your feet. Q&A is also when you become a real human, even if that means admitting that you don’t know something. For me, Q&A often provides the opportunity to address juicy points that ended up on the cutting-room floor during my ruthless final round of edits. There are so many reasons to always make time for Q&A (and none not to). Make it happen, even if it means backing off your prepared content.
As I’ve noted before in this series, public speaking or giving presentations of any kind will differentiate you throughout your career. In fact, so many people are intimidated by the points I’ve covered here, that those who overcome them will automatically rise to the top.
I think you’re ready to step up the mic in 2017.
Isn’t that great?