A leader should never be short on skill when it comes to communicating, including presenting in an engaging manner. The ability to motivate employees to want to do something requires presenting facts and conveying emotion genuinely. Convincing VCs to part with money takes intention and a thoughtfully constructed presentation. Money, progress, and strong relationships are all possible outcomes when you are an engaging presenter.

I recently talked with Stanford professor Matt Abrahams, an expert on presenting. He's also the author of Speaking Up without Freaking Out. I asked Abrahams what leaders can do to nail their next presentation. Here's what he had to say.

Learn to harness anxiety for good. Most presenters get nervous when they have to present to an audience. "We learn to manage anxiety, we don't overcome it," says Abrahams. "It's a useful tool for us. It helps us focus, gives us energy." The professor explains that to manage anxiety, acknowledge how it makes you feel. This is how you control it and positively harness it's affects. It's an act of mindfulness that influences this emotion. If these tips don't work for you, Gary Vaynerchuk envisions punching audiences in the mouth.

Share the spotlight. Another tip to manage anxiety is to shift the focus from you to the audience: Begin by asking them a question. Or show a video to help you calm your nerves. The trick is to shift the attention to the audience and away from you.

Become present oriented. Many presenters worry about the future as it relates to their presentation: "What if I forget the flow." "What if I forget to make an important point?" To get present, Abrahams suggests listening to a song that pumps you up. "Counting backwards from an odd number or using a tongue twister," helps says the author. I personally like to put on a high energy song and dance. It helps me work out nerves and get present.

Remember that you are in service to your audience. Both Gary V and Matt Abrahams agree that your role as a presenter is to serve the audience's needs. Shift your thinking from you to what they want. Envision how your message can help them.

Find out what has previously worked. If you're in service to your audience as a presenter, it stands to reason that you know what has previously worked. If you're doing a sales pitch, find out what decision makers prefer to know and hear. When speaking at an event, talk with the event organizer about what the audience likes and dislikes. You can also learn from a presenter who spoke at the previous year's event. Your goal, in part, is to learn what delights and bores the audience.

Structure your message intentionally. Be intentional about how you construct your message. Here are some common structures to presentations:

  • What/So What/Now What
  • Problem/Solution/Benefits
  • Past/Present/Future

Practice conversationally. Abrahams says practicing doesn't mean looking at your slides and thinking about what you're going to say. He suggests sitting at a table and talk through the content. Build habits of connection. "Practice with friends drinking coffee around the table." Progressing from there, Abrahams suggests standing and practicing your talk. Wear the clothes you plan to wear when giving the presentation.

Don't memorize your presentation. When you memorize your presentation it changes the way you relate to the audience. Your goal is to connect with the audience. Instead of memorization, create an outline. List and know your key points and transitions. Abrahams likes to create a question-based outline. List the questions you plan to answer in your presentation. This approach increases your confidence because you know the answers to the questions.

Monitor your hygiene. Get a good nights sleep before your presentation. Exercise. Avoid salty foods and caffeinated beverages. Before you go on stage, drink warm water with honey. Put a lozenge in your mouth before going on stage to help your throat from getting raspy.

Remember "reverse plumbing." The professor offers up this curious bit of advise to help with excessive sweating or cotton mouth: "wet gets you dry: dry gets you wet." For example, if you're sweating, hold a cold bottle of water in your hand to cool your core body temperature.

A last tip that is worth reinforcing is to include human-interest details that make you appear authentic to the audience. Remember, you want your message to be heard and understood. This requires connecting with the audience.

The next time you will be in front of an audience, don't wing it. Prepare for it. You'll have greater impact and increase your effectiveness.

Published on: Apr 14, 2016
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