Presentation skills are a potent weapon in our comms armoury. But how can we improve to get the most out of the opportunities around us? By being ACE.
by Darren Caveney
At school I was that kid who would sit at the back at the class and the back of the bus, out of the way and trying to avoid the spotlight and the teacher’s glare.
I think I was a mixture of shyness and maybe lacking in a bit of confidence. Also my senior school was a bit like the setting from the 1979 British classic, Scum. There was a certain amount of self-preservation thrown into my liking for a bit of anonymity.
Fast forward to the early origins of my career working in comms and I was still that kid who would avoid the spotlight. I would get nervous about public speaking and would instigate all of my best excuses and avoidance tactics to get out of any such torment.
But I quickly realised that this approach wouldn’t get me very far if I had ambitions to progress up the comms ladder.
So, I got over myself and started to get more involved. I would volunteer to leads things and present ideas, campaigns, branding visuals and the like whenever the opportunity came around.
Weirdly I then discovered that I actually quite liked doing it.
I think part of what I enjoyed was having the mic, the floor, the opportunity to dictate the conversation a little more, having previously been quite passive. Suddenly I had a bit of control and the ability to influence.
Is this an important skill for a comms professionals?
In a word, yes. As communicators we have a lot to say for ourselves and our roles. Even if we don’t want the pressure or responsibility I believe it comes with the job.
Of course our profession is made up of all sorts of personality types – extroverts and introverts, thinkers and doers, left side and right side of brain people. Some will relish this challenge more than others. That’s totally natural.
But, if we can’t present ourselves well and tell our own story effectively, how can we be truly trusted to do it on behalf of our organisations?
What do I mean by presenting?
It’s a whole range of things in these Covid days isn’t it but some prime examples for me include:
Leading a Zoom or Teams meeting
Presenting campaign ideas and visuals to your leadership team
Speaking at an industry event
Facilitating a workshop on identifying stakeholders to engage with on a project
And – dare I say it – job interviews
I was reminded of the importance of these skills this week, and that it’s not uncommon for some comms pros to feel a little uncomfortable presenting.
So, I thought I would try to share a couple of simple tips and an approach for ACE-ing presentations…
Assertiveness: Sometime it can be difficult to be heard in a room or in an organisation. Having a formal opportunity to speak and present in these situations can be vital if we want to be able to share an idea, a recommendation or even a plea or a warning. But assertiveness is also about us stepping up and accepting the challenge of public speaking, presenting or being in the spotlight. It can be hard if this doesn’t come naturally for you – I know this – but being assertive and taking on the challenge can be very empowering. It can also help get you spotted so in an organisation which recruits and promotes from within your talents and skills stand a better chance of being spotted if you do put yourself in the spotlight. Sit at the back of the class and you may be the kid that the teacher struggles to remember much about.
Confidence: Like most things in life, confidence is key and practice can make perfect, or at least get us closer to achieving it. For genuine confidence to exist two other factors must be present for me:
1. A genuine belief in what we are saying or selling
2. Clarity on the benefits of what we are pitching and the ability to explain them to any doubters in the room
For added confidence I would recommend that you think through and anticipate likely questions (for example interview questions or an internal cynic you expect to raise barriers or concerns) What is the trickiest question they could ask you about your presentation or pitch? Nail the answer the that and you’ll feel your confidence rise
Evaluation: As comms pros we’re abundantly clear on the importance of evaluation. But this also applies to our own performance in a presentation, facilitation or interview.
Video meetings, for example, and the chance to record them and watch back our performance can be really revealing. Of course we all hate seeing and hearing ourselves, especially in our new Zoom-tastic and Teams-tastic world. The first time we do this can be quite horrifying but battling through our uneasiness is really important if we want to understand our presentation strengths and weaknesses: What are we good at, what could we improve?
We all have individual habits too. One of mine was/is saying ‘erm’ too often. Knowing our own quirks is an important step in helping us to make small adjustments. These adjustments can equal improved performance and can in turn boost our confidence in public speaking.
If it’s a job interview we can ask for feedback. And if you led a session, meeting or workshop internally you can ask trusted colleagues for some critical friend feedback.
Finally, can I add an extra C: Content. Make sure that your content is absolutely on point and looks great. You don’t need me to go on about PowerPoint slides with a million words and bullet points on them, we all know about the flaws in this.
But it should look or sound good, interesting, relevant and compelling.
You should feel proud about what you’re presenting. Excited, even, to share your goodies to an expectant crowd.
It’s a chance to shine and an opportunity to sell your ideas and get underway with a new initiative.
But most of all enjoy it. If you enjoy delivering your presentation then there’s a chance that others will enjoy listening and seeing your content and performance.
Good luck with it.
Go and be ACE.
Darren Caveney is creator and owner of comms2point0 and creative communicators ltd
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Image via Jaqian