Delivering better presentations at work
“How you say something makes as deep an impression as what you say.”
I was sitting through a series of work meetings earlier this week, with colleagues presenting on their achievements to date and budgets for next year. So far, so good; it is the usual week of endless PowerPoints with tables, charts, graphs and bullet lists. These are no external presentations, so the ornamentation around them is meagre. Still it made me wonder how few of these highly paid executives managed to deliver a half decent pitch. And by that I mean a 15 minute talk about a subject that would not lure the listener into a siesta after 30 seconds.
Granted: the subject may not have been the most appealing: “2017 Budget”. But, as we all know, it is often not what you say, but how you say it, that will make the difference.
I therefore came up with a little game and started an evaluation on each presenter. They were scored with a simple yes/no on basic presentations skills that any individual in the corporate world should be familiar with. The result was shocking and sad, as you will find below. There was nobody, NOBODY who got everything right.
I am wondering if we have become sloppy in our public appearances. If we think that just by chucking out presentations regularly, we are naturally getting better at it. No need to put in further effort. I also get the sense that there is a common complacency at workplaces, to accept mediocre presentations and not be too critical about how people portrait themselves and deliver their message.
Therefore I am encouraging myself and others to consciously practice the few tips below in any act of public speaking. There are plenty of opportunities to do this, without having to deliver the Ted Talk of your life. A sporadic contribution at a work meeting, informal conversations in smaller groups, that little speech at your friends´ leaving due… all are chances to mindfully practice and evolve into a better speaker.
Presenters Evaluation Results “Budget Meetings 2017”:
1. Has he/she practiced the presentation in advance? Yes Result: 0%
It is well known that you should rehearse out loud beforehand. And it was painfully obvious that none of the presenters had done so, hence they were mostly reading off their slides. The consequence: the listeners choose to only read the slides, too, turning what was being said into background noise.
2. Is he/she making eye contact with the audience? Yes Result: 20%
Because presenters were reading off their slides, both sides, them and their audience were mostly staring at the creen. Not making eye-contact was a lost opportunity to engage actively with the rest of the room and get instant feedback on how the message was coming across, if at all.
3. Are the pace, volume and pauses adequate? Yes Result: 10%
There was rarely anybody who got all three right. Most presentations were hurried through. Most female presenters spoke too quietly and had to be reminded by the back of the room to please speak up. Most were visibly uncomfortable with making pauses and tried to fill every second with words or “ehhhmmms”. Most presenters did not stress key words or use pitch and tone to their advantage.
4. Is he/she smiling? Yes Result: 60%
Body language is important, how they stand, if they move around the room, gestures, etc. But I chose to focus only on one simple question: are they smiling (a bit, occasionally)? At one point, I wondered if somebody had told the presenter that talking about revenues, sales and costs is incompatible with smiling. The ones who did do so, on the other hand, instantly added a bit of candor and humanity to their speech and got the audience´s attention.
5. Did he/she engage with the audience? Yes Result: 40%
All of them finished off their presentations with a lame “any questions?”. Some politely encouraged their audience in the beginning to interrupt and ask questions. But that was about it. There was only one person who actively and naturally managed to engage with his listeners by checking back with them from time to time, by making his presentation almost like a conversation.