The power of influence

The role of any leader or senior manager in any organisation will include presenting, either formally or informally. Whatever your functional role – running a business unit, a VP, MD, member of the C- Suite or business owner, there will be times when it is critical for you to engage, motivate, persuade or gain commitment from small and large groups. The presentations can be formal or informal, with a large or small group and either internally or externally facing. In these situations, the outcome of your presentations will impact on your business outcomes, your reputation and your personal self-confidence. These are indeed high-stake situations, because whether you like it or not, your audience will be making judgements about you. So what do you need to pay attention to if you want to be an outstanding presenter? How do you set yourself apart? These 10 core ideas are distilled from our book The Leader’s Guide to Presenting, which recently won the UK 2018 business book of the year (self-development) award:

1. Prepare and present with the audience in mind

Every presentation should be audience not presenter centric. Presenting is a subset of influencing and if you are to be effective then nothing is more important than taking the audience’s perspective. If you were in the audience what questions might you ask?

* Put yourself in the audience’s shoes and ask – What is their current knowledge level? What do they need to know? How much are they engaged / motivated? What are their concerns, challenges and desires around your topic? What is their level of seniority? What is their cultural mix? What is a realistic outcome?

* The audience will need to understand the WIIFM (what’s in it for me?) to listen and engage with your presentation? People buy emotionally and then justify logically and so you need to find ways to move them if you want them to take action.

* If it is a tough or hostile audience, ask yourself: what are the five worst questions you don’t really want to get asked about this subject and prepare careful answers. This will also help your personal self-confidence.

2. Mind-set always trumps knowledge, so be confident

Have you ever noticed what happens to you when you see a presenter who is nervous? Typically we either switch off or we become empathetic and think – thank god it is not us up there. Mark Twain once said he’d rather be in the casket in the funeral than deliver the eulogy. Many leaders find presenting uncomfortable. The key is to find tools and techniques that allow you to access a resourceful state in which to present.

* Breathe diaphragmatic-ally. Too many presenters upper body breathe, because they are too nervous. If you breathe deeply you will feel more grounded and authentic.

* Say to yourself something positive – ‘I’m going to be fine’, ‘The audience will like me’.

* Think of a time when you were confident and then go back to that time and remember it as vividly as possible. This will change the way you feel in the present.

3. Be authentic

Great leaders understand themselves well. They think carefully about the impact they have on others. How much of you as a person do your audience see when you present? It is important for you to be seen as yourself when you present – you need to be authentic, not an actor playing a role:

* Define how you would like to be as a presenter – identify your strengths, your values, your weaknesses.

* Authentic comes from the word ‘authentikos’ meaning genuine. You need to both be genuine and appear genuine when you present.

* You will be more authentic if you are self-aware and are prepared to flex your style, depending on the audience you are influencing.

4. ‘Less is more’ – reduce your content

So many leaders’ presentations are boring because they contain too much content. Avoid the tendency to ramble. An audience is far more likely to listen if you stay on target and are succinct. In fact they’ll love you for it! Keep it short and to the point. The audience will only remember 10% of what you say anyway, even if you are a brilliant presenter:

* Reduce your slides, chunk in the information carefully, and slow down your delivery.

* Remember the Power of 3 – stick to three key messages and be prepared to repeat them.

* You can always cover off more information in the Q & A session.

5. Start effectively, build the why, and finish strongly

People like structure, so tell them your presentation map at the start. Remember primacy and recency – the audience will remember the first and last things you say.

* Start with a spike to engage any audience. A spike is a sentence or series of sentences that gets at the heart of your message. For example the MD of a Telecomms company looking for investment said: ‘ 50% of the world’s population have neither made nor received a phone call’ – this compels the audience to pay attention right from the start!

* Outline to the audience the benefits of listening to you – what will they improve, save, solve, increase, reduce by listening to you?

* Finish with a clear call to action and with one final message that captures the spirit of your presentation.

6. Deliver with maximum impact through powerful body language and vocal variety

93% of your impact happens unconsciously so be aware of the impact of your voice and body language.

* Stand tall on both feet, resist the urge to slump or fiddle, use big gestures, smile and get eye contact with your audience

* As a leader your audience will want to experience from you both levitas and gravitas and you can deliver on this through your voice.


Speak slowly


Use pauses

Go down at the end of a sentence or phrase


Speak fast

Variety in tone

No pauses

Go up at the end of a sentence or phrase

7. Balance facts with personal stories

Of course you need to be objective, provide evidence and be strategic. Equally in order to bring your presentations to life, thrown in stories and anecdotes to bring flavour and fun.

* Identify key evidence that fits your hypothesis and use it sparingly

* Share from personal experience. No need to research, no need to investigate, and no need to memorise anything. When in doubt about what to say, just tell a story from your past related to the situation. Stories are memorable.

* Divulge something about yourself to create emotional connection to your audience.

8. Take a risk – try new things in your presentation

Too many business leaders play it too safe. Do something different – take a risk that you may be memorable! Your audiences’ attention span is around 10 minutes, so variety is key.

* Get out from behind your podium and get closer to your audience.

* Use videos, activities, questionnaires, ice breakers to fully engage any audience and to break up a longer presentation.

* Stop using PowerPoint every time. There are over 35 million PowerPoint presentations made every day around the world. Dare to be different.

9. Practise on the edge of discomfort

The only way to improve is to practise – do more presentations. No one improved a presentation from reading an article! In addition, far too many leaders / senior managers do not rehearse their presentations properly.

* If you do not make the time to rehearse, your audience are seeing your first rehearsal! It is critical that you rehearse the presentation all the way through and consider the key inflection points in the presentation so you can maximise your chance of succeeding with your call to action.

* Ideally practise with a colleague who can give you feedback. Alternatively, video your presentation, watch it back and notice what works and what you would like to change. And be kind on yourself.

* Get out of your comfort zone and say yes to more presentation opportunities. If conference speaking daunts you, just do it and learn to improve.

10. Be open to feedback

Feedback is the breakfast of champions. And yet leaders rarely get the feedback they need to improve. There are ways though:

* Hire a coach. We spend a lot of our time working with leaders who want to improve and we help brainstorming, structuring and then delivering outstanding presentations.

* Get a trusted colleague to give you balanced feedback after a key presentation.

* With all feedback – prioritise most important elements and then focus on one improvement area per presentation.

Too many senior people struggle with too many elements of presenting, even though they know how important it is nowadays in winning hearts and minds. Improving within these ten areas of focus will allow you to present with more conviction so that you can influence more of your audiences, more of the time.

Contact me now to learn more about becoming an exceptional presenter!

Appeared in African Review – May 2018