Presenting Yourself Well: Taking the Stage

By Dr. Wanda Wallace

Dr. Margo Gouley

The executive presence you have in a meeting, a talk or a sales pitch is largely determined by both how you craft the message as well as the way you deliver that message.


One of the most popular shows we have done on Out of the Comfort Zone was with Dr. Margo Gouley of the Humphrey Group, a business coach who helps clients achieve clarity of thought and convey the value of their ideas. She says that presenting yourself well starts with mindset. Listen to the full show here.


“If your goal is to have executive presence and inspire people with your thinking, you have to have your own thinking straight, before you can focus on body language or eye contact or some of the things you readily associate with executive presence,” says Gouley. That means taking your head out of the data, the facts and the tactical day-to-day and thinking about what you are trying to achieve with the communication. It means having a vision and a strategic approach.


Gouley takes clients through four principles to help them cultivate this strategic approach.


Vision. Questions you can ask yourself are “Why am I here?” and “What do I hope to get out of this communication?” If you have a vision, you are likely to explain the bigger purpose for your presentation right upfront. That will change the way the audience will see that conversation. This step is necessary but not sufficient.


Audience. Think about why they are there. What do they need? This requires empathy. You have to balance audience centricity with our own vision. Don’t go in blind. Don’t assume the audience sees the situation the way you do. Ask as many questions as you can before a crucial communication.


Moving from Information to Inspiration. Step back from the data and think about what insight you are providing into that data. What are your beliefs about that information you are sharing? Make sure your one central message is there. Don’t ask an audience to remember multiple messages. They will only remember one.


Courage. It takes courage to be a leader. People can find data anywhere, so they are looking to leaders for conviction and courage. What sets leaders apart is their ability to provide insight” says Gouley. It’s a lot easier to just talk through data than to take a stand, especially if confronted by the audience. Data gives you a false sense of comfort; don’t be lulled by that sense.

Leader Script

A Leader Script is Gouley’s core methodology for getting people out of information mode and into the conviction mode. It’s a framework for taking you through the process of preparing your message so there is clarity, conviction and inspiration. The leaders script has several basic components:


Grabber. Setting up the conversation and clearly identifying the purpose. Think about what your audience needs to build trust. You can use a personal grabber that ties you together, builds rapport or creates empathy. If the audience just needs context, you might need a factual grabber that helps them understand the big picture. A literary grabber is any reference to something you have read that creates a comparison in your audience’s mind with the subject you are about to discuss. Grabbers are effective when they are authentic. For example, subject “My favorite quote about leadership is ‘it is the job of a leader to create more leaders.’”.


Then, give your Subject – no positive or negative language – just state what you are here to talk about. Avoid judgement words like problem, inadequate, fixing etc. This is important for setting the scope of the conversation. For example, “I want to discuss our leadership development strategy.” [Do not say “I want to talk about how we can fix our broken leadership pipeline.”]


Present one key message that is the heart of what you believe and want and what the audience to care about. Your message will resonate with your audience if it is positive, full of conviction, audience-centered and supported by fact. If you cannot prove it, don’t say it. A positive message is much more likely to spur action and inspire people. It can be challenging to remain positive, but you must. Keep your message to one statement, as short as possible. For example: “This strategy creates a strong pipeline that will facilitate the development of strong relationships between all areas of our business at the leadership level.”


Back up your message with facts. If you cannot prove it, don’t say it.


Call to Action. Closing with a strong call to action. Ask for a real commitment, not just approval. For example: “I need you to sign off on this plan before the new recruitment season.”


This framework is effective for conversations, meetings and presentations. Great communication is communication that has impact and it’s the hallmark of great leadership.

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