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10 Zen Ways to Nail Your Next Presentation

Noted public speaking coach Sims Wyeth offers 10 koan-like tips that will calm your nerves and leave your audience applauding.
Before you speak, stand in silence, smiling slightly and take three deep breaths. You'll have the audience's attention.

Your job as a business owner is 90% communication: You have to communicate the goals of your enterprise and rally your employees around them, and the most effective way to that is still the spoken word. Sims Wyeth, one of the best presentation coaches I know, says, “Public speaking is the number one tool of leadership because when you get people in a room to hear the same message at the same time, you have the greatest chance of moving them to action.”

This isn’t something that software is likely to change. As Wyeth points out:

We humans have been around in our present form for 20,000 years. If you envision those years along the length of a yardstick, written language will have appeared on the last 2/3rds of an inch, and widespread literacy on the last 16th of the final inch.

Human groups have always made important decisions based on the spoken word.

In his book A Zen Monk Had Sweaty Palms, Wyeth comes up with dozens of koan-like tips on how to be a more persuasive public speaker and effective presenter. Here are my favorites:

  1. Speaking to an audience is like feeding apple sauce to a two-year old. The more you spoon out, the more ends up on the floor. Include on the slides and in your spoken text only the information necessary to support your points. Cut everything else. You’ve finished writing your speech when there is nothing left to take out.
  2. The less you try to impress your listeners with your knowledge, the more they respect you for your expertise. When you speak to them in their language about what they care about and eliminate your own specialized vocabulary, you elevate yourself from subject matter expert to strategic advisor.
  3. Work from the outside in. Your inner state shapes your body language: When you’re sad, you droop, when you’re happy, you expand. But the process also works in reverse. Your posture, gestures, and facial expressions create neuro-chemical and hormonal messages that influence how you feel. So here’s some old-fashioned advice. Stand up straight, weight on both feet. Keep your chin up. Chest out, Open up and smile. Those actions make you look and feel good.
  4. Dare to be silent. Before you open your mouth, look at your audience with a slight smile and take three very quiet, deep breaths. Then, when the silence becomes the blank canvas on which you will paint your masterpiece, begin.
  5. Speak in pictures. Martin Luther nailed his thoughts to the door of his church. Stick your ideas into the mind of your audience by being vivid and concrete. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” is more memorable than, “The value of controlled assets exceeds by a factor of two those we pursue but do not yet possess.”
  6. To defeat stage fright, focus on your focus. Fear comes when you fixate on the possible problems rather than on the goal you want to achieve or the process you’re using to reach it. In tennis, you don’t look at the net. In golf, you don’t look at the sand trap. You look at the ball and focus on hitting through it.
  7. Make your headlines sentences. Sentence headlines are better on slides because they make a point. Phrase headlines just create a category of items. “Upside potential” is just a label and will be forgotten. “We can dominate our category” will be remembered.
  8. Good presentations are like rivers, bad ones like canals. The river offers a surprise around every bend—calm pools, sounding cataracts, deep gorges, spreading fields. A canal is straight and plodding. Your listeners want variety: broad truths buttressed by homely examples; solemn purpose marbled with humor; a voice that is animated and varied. Variety perks things up.
  9. Control their eyes. Your audience will find it hard to listen if they’re trying to read slides filled with text. To help them listen, show them what to look at. Like a docent at a museum, explaining great art, point out what you want their eyes to see while you fill their ears with your explanation.
  10. Begin, be brief, be seated. As Mrs. Humphrey said to her husband, “Hubert, for a speech to be immortal, it need not be interminable.”

Adapted from A Zen Monk Had Sweaty Palms by Sims Wyeth

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Last updated: Dec 27, 2011

ERIC SCHURENBERG | Staff Writer | Editor-in-chief, Inc.

Eric Schurenberg is the president and editor-in-chief of Inc. Before joining Inc, Eric was the editor of CBS MoneyWatch.com and BNET.com and managing editor of Money Magazine. As a writer, he is a winner of a Loeb and a National Magazine Award.




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