Image: Project Manhattan
Image: Project Manhattan

Whether you enjoy the opportunity to put your business in front of an audience or the very thought of it it fills you with dread, presenting is a now an essential business skill, says Steve Bustin author of The Authority Guide to Presenting and Public Speaking

 

If you’re pitching to potential investors or potential clients; presenting to existing customers or your internal team or speaking at an industry meeting or networking event, it’s a skill you need to hone and develop because while your content is important, your delivery is just as important. Public speaking at conferences and events is also now a key part of any business development strategy, allowing you to communicate ‘one to many’ about your business and what it can do for them.

If you’re employed you also need to make sure your public speaking skills are up to scratch as more and more job interviews (especially for senior roles) now include a presentation as part of the process.

Business leaders, politicians and those seeking to build their business and personal profile from the stage will pay big bucks for a top speech coach to help them hone their oratory skills and really connect with an audience. You can develop the same skills by setting out to get the same kind of feedback and critique that a coach would give you, without the large invoice at the end of the process.

Hopefully you already ask for feedback after every presentation you give. Who do you ask? Your friends? Colleagues? When was the last time you asked your boss? Or those who work for you? Set out to get feedback from all directions, but don’t just ask ‘Was I alright?’ but instead get specific and ask questions such as:

  • What did you like?
  • What didn’t you like?
  • Was my content strong?
  • Was my delivery strong? Did it add to or undermine my content?
  • What could I do differently next time?

Make a point of asking those you respect as good presenters themselves as their feedback is likely to be more useful. A football player would never ask a tennis coach for feedback so why would you ask someone who doesn’t know the difference between a good and bad presentation for feedback?

Something else a speech coach will work on which you is the effectiveness of your presentations, but again you can go through the same process by asking questions such as whether you met your objectives for your presentation? Did you even know what your objective was? Did you know what you wanted it to achieve?

Perhaps even more importantly, did you meet your audience’s objectives? Did they get what they wanted from your presentation? Many presenters never stop and think about what their audience want to get out of it and only focus on what they themselves want to achieve through their presentation. An audience’s objectives may be very different from yours, too. You may want to pass on certain skills or information whereas your audience may be seeking reassurance about job security or information on how to achieve their bonus.

Ask members of your audience what they got from your presentation. What did they take away and actually use? What they find memorable and useful may not be the parts you expect, so perhaps you either need to refocus your presentation or make the parts that to you are important, more memorable.

The third way you can be your own speech coach is to critique your own presentation at the rehearsal stage. Yes, there really does need to be a rehearsal stage. No actor, musician, comedian or other performer would ever take the stage without rehearsing and the same should be true when you’re about to ‘perform’ your presentation.

Rehearsing doesn’t just mean reading through your notes and skimming through your slides ten minutes before you start, either. You need to have delivered your presentation, out loud not just in your head, at least once before you put it in front of your audience. Saying it out loud means you’re less likely to trip over your words as you’ll already have discovered the likely trip points.

Really be your own speech coach by filming your rehearsal (on your phone is fine) and watching it back. It’s horrible – no one likes seeing themselves on video – but it’s the best way to see how you come across to an audience. Critique what you’re looking at and what you’re hearing. Do you have any nervous tics showing through? Are you constantly looking at your notes (more rehearsal will cure that)? Are you speaking too fast, moving around too much – or not enough? Make notes as you watch of which elements of your content and ‘performance’ need tweaking and put those changes in place. Better to get rid of any issues in the rehearsal rather than putting them in front of an audience.

Get into the habit of being your own coach. Seek feedback from those whose opinions you respect – or whose opinions you need. Set objectives for yourself and your audience and then measure whether you meet those objectives. Finally understand that a good presentation doesn’t happen at the podium but in the presentation and give yourself time to rehearse, critique and improve. You’ll be a strong, more effective presenter – and your audiences will thank you for it.

About the author:

Steve Bustin is author of The Authority Guide to Presenting and Public Speaking: How to Deliver Engaging and Effective Business Presentations. Published by SRA Books as part of the Authority Guides series of pocket-sized business books. www.authorityguides.co.uk