If you hate presentations, you’ll love this…

The hog and the boy

Have you been handed an awkward burden?

You’ve been handed a burden, which seems to have already decided where it wants to go: yes, someone’s dumped a presentation on you, and if you’re really unlucky, they’re filled with the words and slides of another.

Your stomach feels like a cement mixer as you’re launched into the pit of anxiety that threatens to swallow you up.

Actually, a certain amount of nervous energy can sharpen the senses but you want to control them, not have them control you.

So here are 7 ways to make nervous energy work for you and make presenting – dare I say it – enjoyable.

Numbers 2 and 7 can be particularly useful in life, not just presentations: not that presentations are part of something other than life.  You’re not sailing on the Styx: just speaking to a bunch of people, for heaven’s sake.  You can do it.

Read on if you want to save your heart rate for the gym.

Someone else contolling your presentation?

Someone else contolling your presentation?

  1. Don’t be someone else’s glove puppet – got someone else’s 76 tedious slides to deliver? Define the key message, make sure you make maximum 9 points to support it, then chuck, change or skip the slides you don’t need. Your job is to communicate a message, not be a mouthpiece for someone for a bad messenger.
  2. Reframe – when asked to do a presentation, many consider this a huge bane. After all, it’s not the core part of their role, unless they’re a professional presenter. So tell yourself: ‘I do not do presentations. I do dialogues, with one person speaking most of the time.’ We all know how normal that kind of conversation is.
  3. Breathe – when you’re nervous, your breathing may tend to go up to your chest, this ‘upper thoracic’ pattern generates more adrenalin, which can make you short of breath and increase anxiety further. By breathing from the stomach, or ribs around the centre of the torso, you’ll achieve greater calm.
  4. Dump the script – trying to remember a script can not only makes your presentation a stressful experience but can also make you look and sound rather wooden. You need some spontaneity in there so using a mind map, showing your points and how they relate to your main message, would give you a clear pathway through your content
  5. Not a herd of heads, but humans – chatting with members of your audience beforehand means that you’ll already have a connection amongst those faces. As a result, that anonymous sea of faces disappears and is replaced by what it really is: a group of individuals who really want to listen to you. And I know this for a fact because it’s pretty questionable that anyone would want a speaker to be unengaging, unless they need to catch up on their sleep.
  6. Don’t introduce yourself – you may not have to do this anyway, if someone is introducing you, but in the spirit of a normal conversation, it’s uncommon for a stranger to approach you with ‘Hi, my name is Jo Bloggs and I’m the R&D Director for Sky-high Ltd.’ You’d forget the name anyway because there’s too much processing going on in our minds when we first meet people. Have you ever gone out and started talking to someone, then half an hour later it dawns on one of you to ask the other’s name? What you did was engage, just like in a natural conversation. To do this in a presentation, you can use the Spice Rack, techniques of engagement. These include a picture, prop, anecdote or quote. Then, and only then, introducing yourself would be timely.
  7. Transfer an experience – when speaking in public, you may need to tap into a sense of confidence. Sometimes, it might be something like a feeling of freedom or control. Once that the emotional quality has been pinpointed, recall a time when you felt this. By summoning up the atmosphere and senses around this experience, you can then use a physical trigger to immediately invoke that sensation.





How to increase your ‘Presence’


It's all about connection

It’s all about connection

Some people seem to find catching the attention of others effortless, be it in a job interview, presentation or a meeting.

What is it they’ve got that other people haven’t?



What are the qualities that make some people more trustworthy, authoritative and persuasive?

The good news is that these qualities can be learnt…read on if you’re interested in getting other’s attention (without shouting or doing the Shimmy Shake).

Let’s imagine Eugene needs to stand in front of his business partners and persuade them to pool resources on a new venture.  He needs to appear more authoritative, trustworthy and persuasive so what qualities do you think are vital?

According to work conducted at the University of Lausanne. lead by Professor John Antonakis,  there are a set of twelve communication habits that Eugene would need to adopt.

When Antonakis was conducting the study of what would give people like Eugene that extra ‘zing’, he was actually looking at ‘charisma’.

The Latin root of ‘charisma’, ‘charis’ means ‘favour’ and the whole word therefore translates as to ‘exhort favour’.  In other words, ‘being influential’.  Not every leader or manager needs to be – or can be – ‘charismatic’ with its ‘wow the room’ implication but to be engaging is vital.

Eight of the techniques of engaging others, are verbal:

  1. using metaphors;
  2. easy-to-remember three-part lists;
  3. telling stories;
  4. drawing vivid contrasts;
  5. asking rhetorical questions;
  6. expressing moral conviction;
  7. reflecting an audience’s sentiments;
  8. and setting high but achievable goals.

The rest are non-verbal: raising and lowering your voice, letting your feelings show in face and hand gestures to reinforce what you say.

All these skills are based on Aristotle’s theory of rhetoric that can be broken down thus:

  • Ethos – establishing your credentials and building rapport;

This could be done during a presentation, by Eugene sharing his experience through anecdotes, for example, and reflecting the audience’s concerns and language.  Credibility may be established beforehand through reputation. Eugene may have a harder job if his audience think he had his hand in the pension fund, in which case, establishing credentials through colourful stories may be as productive as skiing uphill in slippers.

  •  Logos – persuading through logic

By showing cause and effect, before and after, theory next to experience, Eugene will be using logic to influence.

  • Pathos – persuasion with emotion

Try talking about something your are looking forward to in a flat, unmodulated voice with no movement. Then do this with gesture to underline points your emphasise with vocal colouring.  That is the addition of ‘pathos’.  Do be aware of cultural variations, though.  For example, more open, expressive movement would be expected in southern Europe than Northern Europe.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter,  a Professor from Harvard in her blog ‘Why you need Charisma’,  says that it’s how well you listen as opposed to being heard, that will make you influential.  For her, ‘charisma’ is the quality of silence as well as speech.

According to Professor Kanter, active listening is vital:  the questions you ask to seek understanding, reflecting back key phrases, steering a conversation through non-verbals.

Whether in a presentation or the Q and A afterwards both the verbal and non-verbal engagement will be vital.  In meetings, pitches, and interviews getting the balance between active listening and speaking in an engaging way will mean that you have presence.  Both Professors Antonakis and Kanter are spot on.