Whoever declared that talk is cheap probably wasn’t referring to the speeches given during business presentations. Whether you are informing your peers about a new technological development or selling your products and services to a prospective client, how you deliver your message has a direct impact on your bottom line.
Ken Thoreson, president of sales management consulting firm Acumen Management Group Ltd. in Vonore, Tenn., says that all good presentations start with clear goals—the things you want people to take away at the end of your talk. To set objectives, he emphasizes, it’s necessary for presenters to have a full understanding of their audience.
“If a technical person is speaking to a technical group, or whether they are speaking to a client who is nontechnical, they have to make sure that they clearly articulate what they do,” says Thoreson. And don’t assume that your audience understands technical jargon or acronyms. “A lot of times, technical people get up and give the same briefing they have always used without tailoring it to a specific audience,” he says.
Stephan Schiffman, president of New York-based D.E.I. Management Group Inc., suggests that presenters speak one technical level lower than the perceived knowledge level of the audience. “There’s a common denominator, and you can always make time for questions that may be more technical,” he says. “If you’re being asked a technical question and you think that the audience may not get it, explain what the question is about so the audience is engaged in the conversation.”
Body language counts
While the focal point of your presentation is your words, nonverbal communication is crucial for connecting with the audience. Thoreson notes that lifting one’s hands—and voice—keeps the audience’s eyes moving. Depending on the size of the presentation space, you can move around a bit as well, although too much pacing can become a distraction. And, instead of focusing on the back wall or the tops of people’s heads, make eye contact to keep your audience focused on what you’re saying.
Rehearsing your presentation several times is the best way to develop not only what you are going to say, but also how you will present yourself. In addition, it enables you to work on your own natural nonverbal tendencies. “You’ve got to prepare yourself, but not to the point where you’re a robot,” Schiffman says. If possible, videotape yourself to gain insight on how you come across to people. “You want to use the way you look and sound to your advantage,” he says. “You want to accept that premise and then play to your strengths.”
Keep Them Interested
Experts agree that people learn in three main ways: seeing, listening, and doing. Good speakers recognize this, and incorporate all of these elements when addressing a group. “To do an effective presentation, a lot of speakers will use a workbook, or they will have their audience take notes,” says Thoreson. Some presenters also give the audience an opportunity to ask questions, and may even pose a number of questions themselves.
One of the biggest mistakes presenters make is placing too much emphasis on graphs and PowerPoint presentations, says Cynthia Lett, director and CEO of The Lett Group, a protocol and business etiquette training firm for executives in Silver Spring, Md. While these can be useful tools to underline the points you are making, simply reading them in front of your audience has little effect. “I refuse to read anything when I speak, because I’m there as the expert in my field,” she says. “If I have to read it, then I’m not the expert. I might as well just give them my text and walk out the door.”