Presenting & Public Speaking: proficient, painless and possibly, positively pleasurable. Part One.
Presenting and public speaking perturb me, not. You'll find me one of the more vocal contributors at the table; I'll regularly chair and facilitate, present to board and I'm a habitual conference speaker. I think I'm probably relatively good at presenting and public speaking; I get asked back and even sometimes get paid for it!
But it wasn't always so...
That's me in the corner
In the early years of my career I was the proverbial wall-flower, wilting on the outskirts, present but not participating, slowly emerging from a long, uncomfortable recovery from a school-days phobia of speaking in public. My story is quite extreme, yours probably less so, but there's a reasonable chance that you'd like a little help with presenting. And if you feel that you could do with more than a little help, then you wouldn't be alone. Andy Lopata and Peter Roper's excellent book 'And death came third' borrows its title from a New York Times Survey on social anxiety which polled our biggest fears. The top two responses were - walking into a room full of strangers and speaking in public. And death came third; that's how scary many of us find public speaking and presenting.
Auditing is Communicating
Your public speaking might not be on the big stage (though it might be!) but there is no doubt that presenting information, findings and solutions in written, oral and spoken form is a big part of audit. The effectiveness of your communication is what creates value from mere data. Whether you are presenting to an audit committee, feeding back to an internal or external client or contributing to a meeting, your message needs to be heard, comprehended and heeded in the way that you intended. And this needs to happen without a punitive toll on your personal wellbeing, whether through anxiety, angst or physical distress.
The What and The How
Too many learning resources on presenting and public speaking give you only one part of the equation. You might have attended a workshop and come away with tools and techniques for effective communication. You could have experienced coaching on the layout of your PowerPoint deck and the presentation of your data. You'll no doubt have read articles on taking control of your nerves and developing confidence. Individually, these are all important facets of a good presentation but to really be successful you need to be combining all of the elements and more, to create synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of the contributing parts. You can only achieve this by working on all the components together and that is why we are taking you through a comprehensive journey, covering the content (The What) as well as the way you present (The How). And this is a unique journey, specifically tailored to auditing.
Let's get started
We will all be starting from a different point, so it's important that you customise the journey for your own very particular needs; you can start with an assessment of where you are right now. In other words, you need to do a personal SWOT on your presenting and public speaking skills and experience. Draw up a matrix for each of the four SWOT areas and get populating, by asking yourself some questions, remembering to consider The What as well as The How.
Strengths. Recall a time (or times) when you were pleased with a presentation you made or your contribution to a meeting or discussion (no matter how small). Be specific. What was it about your input that pleased you? How was it received by your audience and how did you know how it was received?
Weaknesses. Repeat the above exercise on some scenarios that went less well.
Opportunities. What would being a better presenter mean for you? How could it be an enabler in your current and in your future roles? What are your drivers and your motivation to make a personal development investment in this area? What will good presentations skills look like and how will you know that you are improving?
Threats. Consider what has gone wrong for you in the past and specifically identify your fears in the present and for the future. What impact could there be on your longer-term career plans?
You are off. Don't stint on your preparation. The more that you can raise your self-awareness before you design and take action the better chance you have of achieving the best outcomes. Work hard on your SWOT and join us next time for action planning in Part Two.
Presenting & Public Speaking: proficient, painless and possibly, positively pleasurable. Part Two
If you are looking for the auditors' guide to presenting and public speaking AND you are armed with your personal SWOT, read on. If you haven't yet done the pre-work, then go back to Part One...The focus of Parts Two and Three is intense action and you won't be ready for this unless you've raised your self-awareness and can recognise your particular strengths, weaknesses, needs and prospects.
Tried, Tested and Truly Trialled Techniques
In Part One I told you my story - my evolution from wallflower to professional speaker. I shared my journey, firstly as inspiration, to prove that personal development is within your grasp, but also to assure you that the techniques I am sharing really do work. I know they work because I have, and do, use them, consistently and continually. You may not need all of these tips (that's why you did your SWOT, to get specific) but this is a comprehensive guide, designed to facilitate tailoring a development plan to your own particular needs.
With your SWOT beside you, work through the lists below and build your own personal action plan.
This is all about content and preparation. Ever the maxim 'less is more'; it might be a truism but what you choose to leave out is as important as what you leave in.
Plan, design and prepare, and don't stint on the time you allocate to this crucial foundation step. Not only will it ensure your presentation hits the spot, it will also be a major contributor in building your confidence and managing your anxiety.
Know your audience and be clear on your objectives. What do you want your listeners to go away with? Decide on the desired outcomes upfront and then audit your draft presentation against them; be willing to course-correct if your material is falling short of the target.
Put yourself in the audience. Prepare you presentation from the perspective of your listener. Think about their expectations, what they might want from the presentation, what they might understand and/or already know (so you don't patronise).
Structure your presentation. In its simplest form this really does mean have a start, middle and an end. Think of it as telling a story. Start strong with a punchy opener, introduce your aims and objectives and provide an overview of the journey you are taking your audience.
The 'guts' of the presentation is the middle segment where you develop your argument or themes. Quality trumps quantity; be concise, aim for the smallest number of 'meaty' points. Get very familiar with these points, encapsulate them in short 'tag' lines, getting familiar and practised with a set repeatable phrases that you can use for reinforcement your ideas.
Keep to the point; that is, the predetermined points that you planned and prepared in step one. Another highly relevant maxim comes into play here: tell them what you will tell them (introduction), tell them (middle), tell them what you told them (conclusion). A good test for this is the discipline of summarising your presentation in fifteen words. If you can't do it consider cutting in down to the pithiest points than can be summarised succinctly.
Formally conclude. Your finale is a summing up of your key themes and a way of circling back to your objectives to show that you've met your outcomes. Avoiding just tailing off; aim to end on a high, a strong positive note or an interesting anecdote, as this is what your audience will go away with.
Keep your PowerPoint tight, clean and simple, not too busy and, once again, to the point. It depends on the length of your presentation but a general tip is that more than twenty slides suggests too much detailed information (you can always use handouts).
Your slide deck should tell the story of your presentation. A nifty way to do this which keeps you neatly to the track and will discipline you to be succinct is to use your headers as the rolling storyline. In other words, your PowerPoint headings become a stand alone as a summary of your presentation and the body of the individual slides is then used to provide more substance and detail.
Use different communication mediums to match the variety of thinking styles you have in the room. Some delegates will learn best from listening to you, others will better remember and understand from visuals (text, charters, diagrams and visuals), some will get the most out of active participation (thinking about questions, for example). While we all have our preferences, a variety of modes further helps us all to make meaning of information, and will enhance our understanding and recall of the presentation.
The overriding message of Part Two is about knowing your topic, but specifically knowing your material in the context of what you want to achieve on the day, for your audience and for yourself. Once you've got this nailed, you are ready to move on to Part Three and look at How you deliver.
Presenting & Public Speaking: proficient, painless and possibly, positively pleasurable. Part Three
...And the How
Having worked through Part Two you should have a good grasp of what you are going to cover in your presentation, to get across your message and maximise your impact. But this is still only half the story. If you fail to deliver effectively you will not get the landing you need to meet your objectives. How you deliver is equally important as What you deliver. Read on to design the second part of your action plan.
On the day arrive early, really early. Give yourself contingency time against travel delays, venue location and equipment issues. Before your delegates arrive, scope out the space and do a dummy run of your PowerPoint
Practice, practice and more practice. If you can at all avoid it, never present cold. If you can't find a colleague or a friend, at least rehearse in front of the mirror and try video and/or audio recording, followed by play back critique. Not only will practice give you feedback and stop you repeating less effective behaviours, it will also help you memorise your material and bolster your confidence, reducing anxiety
It's not unusual to be nervous. Use the adrenaline to fuel your energy. This is a technique that I still use today: at the first signs of physical or mental anxiety, I imagine seizing that disquiet and adding it to my fuel tank. I see this as a premium energy source, turbo charging my performance
Mental preparation in the days leading up to your presentation requires similar techniques. Follow the example of the elite athlete who visualises their victorious performance over and over, paying attention to the full execution, before, during and after, and imagines each stage in the minutest detail
And then there is the delivery itself:
Start with a few deep, slow breaths before you commence and remind yourself to make a conscious effort to speak slowly and clearly
Pace is important. Nervous presenters have a tendency to speed up and increase their pitch. Moderate your speed to ensure the audience has the time to absorb each point
But pace variation is necessary too. To avoid a monotone, use slowing down and speeding up to emphasis salient points and don't be afraid of pauses
Aim to be clear, firm and confident but also concise. These are all important for gravitas and maintaining control (of yourself and the room) and are all developed through practise (refer to Part Two)
Project your voice by holding your head high, standing up straight and addressing the back of the room, letting your words resonate
Use your body. What does your pose say about your attitude? An upright posture can help convey enthusiasm. Walking around or gesturing with your hands creates energy and can help reinforce your message
Body language is also important for getting into rapport with your audience and building the empathy that you need to take them along with you. Eye contact, smiling, a little humour or appealing to other emotions are all helpful in making that connection, whether on the big stage or across a table
Keep them engaged by using these subtle body language cues and supplementing with interactions such as questions, rhetorical and literal
You will make mistakes but due to the 'spotlight' effect they are likely to be much less obvious to your audience than to yourself. Acknowledge the mistake rather than getting waylaid in apologising and swiftly continue, projecting your thoughts forward rather than backward
The Grand Finale
We've been on a long journey over this three- parter. The finale to my story is a stand up comedy gig which I performed a few years ago in a nightclub in Liverpool, complete with heckling, improvisation and working the crowd. I loved it and I hated it. I was sooooo nervous, but I was well prepared, well rehearsed and had a diverse toolkit at my disposal. For me it was the ultimate manifestation of licking my public speaking phobia.
I did it. You can do it too. You need to get out there though and get on with it. The best piece of advice I can leave you with is just do it. Look for opportunities, speak up in meetings, seize the metaphoric mic whenever possible. Practise desensitizes and wards off procrastination. The more you present, the more your confidence builds, they better you become. You may never love presenting but you can get good at it and keep your personal wellbeing intact.
Which topic would you like to read about next month? Look over the list of topics in the original Audit Advantage article here and let us know your choice for the next topic we should cover.