12 habits of exceptional presenters
There are demonstrable, subtle and consistent differences between presenting virtually and presenting in-person. However, it would be wrong to assume that the emphasis switches to the technology and that takes precedent. Whilst mastering the technology is a pre-requisite of well-honed virtual presenting skills, it is also important to factor in the fundamentals of content design and delivery.
No two exceptional presenters are the same. However, there are 12 areas that are critical habits for both face to face and virtual presentations. They are the foundations of any presentation.
It is useful to have these as a permanent reminder of what works when presenting in any scenario.
A habit here is not ‘a long, loose garment worn by a member of a religious order’ (just checking you are still with me) but ‘a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up’. I suspect you will recognise that you have developed some new habits during the Covid-19 lockdown period – some good, some not so healthy. Here we are talking about developing positive presenting habits that move you from effective to exceptional.
Every presentation needs to be audience-centric. Many business presentations are the exact opposite: presenter centric. Prepare with the audience in mind and identify how you can offer real value. If you are too anxious, you are focusing on yourself. If you stuff your presentations with boring bullet pointed slides, you are focusing on yourself. Exceptional presenters ask:
- How much does my audience know about this subject?
- How engaged are they?
- What would I want if I was in the audience listening remotely?
- How can I put myself in their shoes and then guide them into uncharted waters?
Our suggested process has 7 steps:
- Identify audience
- Set goal for presentation
- Structure, focusing on start (to grab attention) and finish (the idea of recency, the last thing the audience will hear)
- Create powerful, visual slides
- Rehearse – both the presentation and the use of technology
- Become confident – people are more influenced by confident presenters
Be aware of how you are feeling about an upcoming presentation. You can reduce unnecessary anxiety. Confidence is a habit and you can feel good about presenting by breathing well, try Increase your energy in 3 minutes, and utilising Amy Cuddy’s Power Poses and visualising a successful outcome.
Audiences like structure. Having a high-level framework ensures that your message is delivered clearly and increases the chances of your audience recalling the information you deliver. Avoid subjecting your audience to an information dump. Less is more.
There is no ‘one size fits all’ to becoming an exceptional presenter. Be true to yourself, just with more skill! People connect with, and buy into, other people: your goal is to be authentic rather than ‘professional’. We have had enough of boring ‘professional’ presentations.
Your audience needs a compelling reason to listen to you and act. Otherwise, people either listen politely or switch off. Find out more about using the burning platform metaphor. Use Power Words such as save, solve, increase, improve, reduce, and focus on The Why – why should any audience member focus on what you saying?
Nail the WIIFM factor – What’s In It For Me?
Your audience is likely to remember the start and the finish. These are the ideas of primacy and recency. At the start, remember to include a spike (see section on engagement in article 3), your goal, your credentials, timings and how you will handle questions. Ensure you have the final word – make a final, memorable point in order to leave a lasting impression.
There are over 40 million PowerPoint presentations delivered every day – so how are you going to make yours stand out? (our next article). Tell stories. People like surprises, suspense and drama. So, bring your presentations to life with the stories you tell about your career, your areas of expertise, your clients and your personal life.
Deliver with passion and enthusiasm when appropriate. People buy emotionally and then justify logically, so you need to demonstrate your passion for a product, idea or service.
Of course engaging your audience virtually requires new ideas. We will be exploring these next week, when we look at how to engage an online audience with new approaches such as PechaKucha and new technology such as Mentimeter.
Habit 9: Provide compelling and credible evidence
Using evidence and logic will increase your credibility as a presenter. People are persuaded by both logic and emotion. Focus on finding some key relevant pieces of evidence to support your claim, rather than a slew of facts that are loosely related to your main point.
Habit 10: Encourage and manage audience questions
As part of your preparation, ask yourself: what are the five worst questions I really do not want to be asked? Then prepare answers for these. Having a simple structure increases your ability to answer questions effectively – use the 4 A approach
1. Acknowledge question.
2. (when possible) Throw open to Audience.
3. Answer – and keep it short.
4. Ask questioner if question has been answered.
Habit 11: Practise on the edge of discomfort
You do not develop skills by building knowledge – just go ahead and practise presenting! The more you practise (with awareness and feedback) the more you will grow as a presenter. Now is a pretty good time to practise in the safe environment of your home!
Habit 12: Accept all feedback dispassionately
There is no failure, only feedback. You never stop learning. Every presentation is a new learning opportunity. Feedback is critical, so always seek it out (from trusted colleagues) and look for candour from your colleagues. Feedback can become feedforward as you put the new suggestions into action.
Together, these 12 habits provide a strong foundation from which you can develop your own authentic voice and presentation style. Develop these habits now while we are still in lockdown and when you are back in the workplace you can deliver consistently exceptional presentations, that reflect your true personality and allow you to build strong connections with any audience.