Why Great Presenters Are Like Great Athletes
When we provide presentation skills training for executives, we sometimes worry that the training may seem somewhat simple. After all, none of it is rocket science. Even when we''re training rocket scientists, which we sometimes really do.
What is interesting is that in every presentation skills training session the participants embrace the simplicity of our message and they make it work for them. You see, successful presentations -- whether you are presenting to a single person sitting across the table from you or you are the keynote speaker with 2,500 of your peers in the audience -- always come down to the following three components:
Preparation - This encompasses everything from defining what you will say, how you will say it, what you know about the audience that will inform how you can have the greatest impact, what you look like and what visual aids you will use, if any. Speakers who spend as much time or more thinking about things other than the specific message of their presentation have a better chance of succeeding. Message is important, but how the message is communicated is far and away more important.
Practice - I don''t know that I''ve told this story before, but it''s a good one. I accepted my first job in radio without ever having spent a minute on the air. I really don''t remember how I got the job. I must have been a good interview. Or the station manager was just desperate. But I enthusiastically said, "You bet," packed up the car and my wife and started the drive from Boulder, Colorado to the tiny college town of Radford, Virginia, where I would take over the following week as the news director of an AM/FM radio station. Out of the 1,800 miles we drove, I''ll bet I spent 1,750 of those miles reading out loud with my wife critiquing me along the way. When we rolled into Radford, I was no Walter Cronkite, but I had much more control over my voice, my breathing and my ability to read aloud than I ever imagined I would have. These are all muscles that need occasional exercise if you expect them to perform at the highest level on demand. Invest the time practicing out loud and if possible in the actual environment in which you will give the presentation. If you are using visual aids, go through the process of clicking through them. Just as even the greatest athletes benefit from practice, so do presenters.
Performance - I love the scene in Spinal Tap when Nigel Tufnel explains that he has a special amplifier that goes up to eleven (The exchange is below for those who don''t know the movie). I like to instruct participants in our presentation skills training that they need to turn it up to eleven. They can''t just present as themselves; they need to be an amplified version of themselves -- more energy, more passion, more conviction. Just as an actor doesn''t simply read his or her lines -- they deliver their lines. There''s a big difference. The presenter should engage the whole body in their delivery. The legs and arms and face and torso all need to be part of the message delivery system. The voice, the lungs and the diaphragm all need to generate the presentation''s power. You know the saying, "Speak softly and carry a big stick?" I''m convinced that you''ll need the stick to wake your audience up. Speak powerfully -- perform powerfully -- and leave the stick back at the office.
Here''s the scene from Spinal Tap:
Nigel Tufnel: You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You''re on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you''re on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?
Marty DiBergi: I don''t know.
Nigel Tufnel: Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?
Marty DiBergi: Put it up to eleven.
Nigel Tufnel: Eleven. Exactly. One louder.