Secrets to Effective Presentations

Secrets to Effective Presentations
The one presenting secret that everyone knows but nobody uses....

“I’ll never be good at this” said my new client to me last week. That’s a sentence I hear around 9-10 times a month. It’s a sentence I can remember saying to my maths teacher, at roughly the age of 12 years old.

Some people I decided, were born with the natural ability to do this sort of thing, and some people weren’t. I was firmly in the latter category and was really getting comfortable with the label of innumerate. I felt that the sooner everyone else around me accepted that the better, which would perhaps buy me some leniency with my upcoming report card.

My maths teacher however, was having none of it. Now before you think this is going to be one of those ‘this inspirational educator didn’t give up on me stories’ I should make it quite clear that we absolutely hated each other. Endless detention, additional homework and extra helpings of algebra. Essentially, the punishment for not being able to do something, was to do more of it than anyone else. Eventually, as my maths GCSE came and went, I ended up with a very respectable ‘B’ grade. A mark that not so long ago seemed completely out of my reach without extra time or a deferred assessment (or, my fleetingly considered option of faking my own death...)

I understand where my clients are coming from when they say it feels impossible for them to give a powerful, high impact speech to a room full of their peers. They too feel like the ability to speak publicly is either a gift you are given at birth, or something you spend the rest of your life not being able to deliver. In reality, the solution is simple: practice.

The maths teacher in my story made me fail more practice exams than I thought was physically possible before I was even allowed to sit a mock. My clients have the same luxury, they just don’t realise it. If you don’t know how to practice, the first thing you have to get comfortable with is that you’re not going to do brilliantly the first few times you do it. Start by working out what you want to say, then record a draft version on your phone. Once you get a good version you are happy with, listen to it at least twice a day in the run up to the delivery. You don’t need to memorise a script; unless you’re a trained actor that’s a terrible idea and it’s only going to give you something else to worry about. Instead, see if you can reduce the speech down to six concise bullet points and just move from point to point, spending no more than 2-3 minutes on each. Practise by saying out loud, in the comfort of your own home, and if you’re feeling really brave, get a trusted friend/colleague/partner to listen and give honest feedback.

Those first few times you stand up and deliver the material, it will feel really stop and start, and hopelessly uncomfortable. Stay with it, keep going, and it will improve as you repeat the exercise. It’s baffling how many people choose to deliver a presentation without actually doing a run though out loud first. Can you imagine turning up to do a marathon having done nothing more strenuous than a gentle 2k jog by means of preparation first?

So, the big secret is practice. That’s the only thing that really stops my clients from acing a delivery, getting in control of their stage fright and embracing failure. Thankfully though, nobody does it, or I’d be out of a job, and my maths frankly, is pretty average.