One of the most critical skills you need to master as an entrepreneur is presenting in front of groups. I'm still amazed when I see an otherwise engaging and passionate entrepreneur suddenly switch off their charm and go into presentation mode when they get up onto a stage.
The blunt truth is that investors, prospects, customers, and employees will all judge your company based on how well you can present it.
So, how do you hone this critical skill? Well, first off shed the popular adage about pretending the audience is in their underwear.
The fact is that you're the one standing up there butt naked, which is why so many people try to hide behind their slide deck, When I coach speakers for my Master The Gig program the biggest challenge is getting them to walk out on stage without the safety net of a deck and instead step into their vulnerability and passion--you can't do one without the other.
Whatever your strengths and weaknesses, they are on vivid display when you stand in front of an audience. Rather than shirk from them by hiding behind PowerPoint, show confidence by owning them and staying in the spotlight. Yes, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but when you present nothing is more powerful than naked authenticity.
"...when you present nothing is more powerful than naked authenticity."
Years ago I was presenting to a group of investors. In the room was one of the world's wealthiest financiers. I had prepared a truly killer slide deck, which I couldn't wait to present. As I got ready to launch into it the person leading the meeting said, "No PowerPoint please. Just talk to us." There I was all decked out with enough animation to make Pixar weep with envy and they just wanted me to talk! In that moment I was naked in front of the crowd. I learned an important lesson, the litmus test of a great presentation is not "can the deck stand on it's own?" but rather, "can the presenter stand on his or her own?" Always ask yourself that question when creating a presentation and delivering it.
So, if you're ready to step into the spotlight, here are six ways to make sure you have the greatest impact:
- Tell stories. Humans are drawn to stories; we're wired for them. As babies it's how we learn to talk and listen. Our brains are wired to connect at the deepest level when someone shares a story; an intimate, raw, vulnerable story. So make a list of your stories, add to it regularly, and start using them liberally. Use the slides only as a backdrop and the reminder to tell the story.
- Think of the slide deck as the soundtrack to your presentation. If you have to use a deck the images you use should be bold and simple, they should support your ideas, not obfuscate them. If you have to spend more than 15 seconds explaining a slide it's too complex. There is a simple and convincing way to tell every story. Get people hooked and you'll always have time to share the details later. Loose the hook and you'll never have that luxury.
- Never, ever, abdicate your presentation to a video unless you can remain in the role of lead actor. I cringe when I see presenters resort to videos; not just quick 15-30 second effect videos but productions that run several minutes. This is a No-Win situation. No matter how great your video the audience will question why you can't tell the story. You might as well tell your audience that you can't keep their attention. Yeah, you really don't want to do that.
- No laser pointers. Seriously, do I need to explain this one? The irony about laser pointers is that they are only used on slides that are impossible to read and decipher to begin with. "I know this text is hard to read so let me point out just how illegible the slide is....oh, and don't mind the dancing dot of light, that's just because I'm shaking from fear right now."
- Present like a GPS, not like a road map. A GPS shows you just the information you absolutely need to know at that moment. The key is simplicity, anticipation, and transitions. A road map shows you every possible bit of information. Remember that you're telling a story which your audience needs to be able to navigate; less is more. Tell your audience where you're taking them and why, describe the waypoints on the journey, and then tell them what they learned along the way to help them move forward.
- Try to do an entire presentation without ANY slides. Go ahead, it's my challenge to you. If you want to reach mastery you need to do this. It will hone your skills and give you a deep sense of satisfaction. My first standing ovation was years ago when my computer died just before a keynote to a few hundred people. The audience didn't know and I didn't tell them. I just went for, naked as a jaybird. Pull that off and you will realize what really makes your presentation work, YOU. And when you're done take a look in the nearest mirror and say, "Yeah, I'm naked, and damn am I buff!