By Dr. Wanda Wallace
One of the things we know makes a difference in leadership effectiveness is the ability present well, to speak with impact, at all levels. This is of course a major component of executive presence and confidence.
So, it was with great pleasure that I was able to interview a colleague, Charlie Simpson, on my radio program “Out of the Comfort Zone” about making brilliant presentations. Charlie has a fascinating background, perfectly suited to help people become brilliant presenters. He’s a former barrister and was a successful actor before turning to coaching.
I have heard it said before that people fear public presenting more than they fear death. But my talk with Charlie reconfirmed that there is no need to fear it at all. Everyone, no matter how introverted, can learn to become excellent public speakers.
Although the vast majority of people are not born as brilliant communicators, anyone can become much more proficient.
Charlie says: “There are fundamental principles that underpin really effective, really impactful spoken communication and if you obey some rules and you work hard at it, then absolutely everyone can get to a standard which is frankly more than just good. I have a number of clients I would describe as introverted and deeply uncomfortable with this stuff early in their careers and they’ve worked hard at it. It’s like a sport. You can’t just go out onto the golf course having just spent a few hours on the range. You’ve got to put the hours in, but if you put the hours in, absolutely there are fundamental principles you can learn and get really very good at it.”
It’s Not About How Hard You Have Worked or How Smart You Are
Often in a work setting, we spend weeks or months lining up our facts and ideas and writing a PowerPoint presentation. These presentations are full of our hard work and we want our boss and our colleagues to understand how hard we worked, how good our work product is. Probably, a part of us wants others to understand just how smart we are. That’s where it can often go wrong, according to Charlie. You have to make decisions about what you are going to say.
“If you try to say everything, you will end up saying nothing,” Charlie says.
Spoken Word Is Not About Presenting Information
To have greater impact, we must understand the difference between spoken and written word. “Spoken word is rubbish for communicating things and informing people – it’s great for moving people.” Giving the example of Martin Luther King, Charlie points out that he didn’t pack his speeches with information. He chose words carefully to rally people. You can shift the way people feel and act with the spoken word. Do not make a presentation to inform people. Make presentations to move people. Great presenters approach a presentation as a means of moving the audience from point A to point B.
Having Greater Impact
Given the enormity of the task at hand, how do you increase your impact? The presenting of the content may matter as much as the content itself. The two things you want to do to have impact is hold the audience’s attention and help them remember the important points you need them to act upon.
Using the analogy of an old school photograph, Charlie points out that the first thing we do is look for ourselves. Listeners do the same thing.
“We are totally obsessed with ourselves,” he says emphatically. “We filter everything through whether this is good for us or bad for us. We don’t care about the presenter’s world, except where it overlaps with our world.”
“Understanding where that overlap happens is absolutely vital in order to exclude all the stuff that you are fascinated by but your audience couldn’t care less about,” says Charlie. While this sounds logical, it’s easy to fail to do it. Charlie says you have to get rid of absolutely anything in the presentation that does not bring new insight to your listeners.
“You have to constantly push your insight through their ‘me’ filter… In order for something to be considered ‘insight’ it has to be new and relevant to them. Otherwise, it’s not going to matter to them, it’s not going to be new to them and you are not going to hold their attention,” says Charlie.
A good exercise Charlie recommends you use in order to assess and maximize your impact is called a TFD, short for think, feel and do. Here’s the exercise: Right now, assess what the audience is thinking, feeling and doing. Then, think about what you want your audience to think, feel and do. In other words, understand where they are now and where you want them to be in terms of thinking, doing and feeling. It’s an incredibly useful exercise. So you have their attention. Your content is relentlessly insightful because you put it through their “me” filter… but how do you make sure they remember it?
Making Your Content Memorable and Sticky
Why do we remember some content and why is some content forgettable? We remember an image. If you have worked out what is important, but you fail to convert it to an image, your audience won’t remember it. People remember things such as our first car, what happened on September 11, 2001 through images.
“If you fail to convert your insight into something my mind’s eye can see, it will be in one ear and out the other,” says Charlie.
Charlie uses the acronym FOAM – Fact, Opinion, Anecdote, and/or Metaphor – to explain what you need to add to make your content visual.
Fact: Back up your position with a few facts and stats. Facts can paint a picture if audience thinks “Wow. That’s extraordinary.”
Opinion: Quote credible people to give credibility to your thoughts. Famous leaders are great.
Anecdote: Tell little stories and examples that illustrate your point. “If there isn’t an example, there’s no evidence.”
Metaphor: Our brains love metaphor, simile and analogy. If you can say “It’s a bit like….” then you are crafting a metaphor and painting a picture.
This will also, help you simplify your language and make it memorable. Be careful with PowerPoint says Charlie. Use graphics and images. The important point about PowerPoint is think of the slides as FOAM, not a document. “The brain cannot listen and read at the same time,” he says.
Strengthening Your Performance
How you come across as a human being is incredibly important. “Great content feeds energy,” Charlie says. So, you need to perform your content with the right amount of energy. However, most people resist the idea “performing” a presentation as if on stage. While this may feel inauthentic, it is what we do every day. The secret is to take the relaxed version of you – the person you are at home, with your friends, having a good time at a barbeque – and “perform” that version of you when you are under pressure.
Define the performance you aspire to give when you are in front of an audience. Every performance requires a degree of energy. Vocal energy and visual energy. Aiming for enough energy. Most of the time, most people undercook their energy.
Final Words of Advice
To be really good at presenting, there is no substitute for rehearsing. It’s impossible to say how much time is required. It depends on how well you know the content and how effective you are as a speaker. “The big trap is thinking you’ve done enough,” Charlie says. Many senior executives say they don’t want to over-rehearse it because they are worried it’s going to be stale. “That isn’t the danger. The danger is that you won’t be as good as you need to be because you haven’t put in the work required to take something that is good and make it really, really good.”
Video your presentation and watch yourself. Always ask for feedback. We don’t get real-time feedback.