Presentations

by Steve Roche

The presenter

This page is about you – in the role of presenter.

Role models

Who do you admire? Think of several people whom you regard as really good presenters – perhaps colleagues, senior managers, big-name speakers or presenters from television.

What makes them good?

What is it about these people? What specifically do they do that draws you to them, making you want to listen to and enjoy what they say? Think about this for a moment and make a few notes.

So what makes a great speaker?

You may be thinking this is all rather subjective. But, in practice, many people list the same names; there is consensus about good presenting. This means we can learn a lot from observing and modelling such people.

How can I learn from them?

Cultivate the habit of watching skilled presenters carefully. Notice specifically what they say and do, and how they do it. Also note what they don’t do. Think about their attitude and approach; see what you can deduce about their values and beliefs.

If you get to work with an excellent presenter, you can model them more closely:

  • What do they believe about themselves?
  • What states do they create and maintain?
  • What outcomes do they hold?
  • What is their internal dialogue like?

Outcomes

To be a good presenter you need achievable and carefully thought-out goals and aims – at several levels. See the topic on Goal Setting.

Personal outcomes

Think of a presentation you need to do (or one you have done). What is your primary outcome? It might be one or more of these:

  • To communicate information
  • To generate ideas and responses
  • To stimulate to action
  • To bring about change
  • To entertain or amuse.

You may also have secondary outcomes, such as:

  • To build confidence and develop your skills
  • To demonstrate your knowledge and ability
  • To make contact with a wider audience.

You need to know exactly why you are presenting (even if the first answer is ‘because my manager told me to’). Then you can more easily judge how successful you were.

Other perspectives

Your audience will also have outcomes – which may be different from yours.

Consider the viewpoint of the sponsor – your manager, your company, the person or organisation who has asked you to present. What do they want from it? Perhaps for you to do some or all of the following:

  • To meet the audience’s needs and give good value
  • To be professional and well-prepared
  • To be interesting, helpful and informative
  • To fulfil your brief and to stick to your time.

And if you manage all this and are entertaining as well, you will certainly be asked back!

You as presenter

In addition to the way you behave and the skills you have, there are other important factors, including preconceptions and beliefs. The logical levels model can be helpful here.

There is more about logical levels elsewhere in this resource, but essentially the model describes the way in which we make sense of the world and our role and experiences in it by sorting our thoughts into certain levels, starting with the level of environment and working up to the spiritual level at the top.

  • Environment – everything and everybody around us; our physical environment
  • Behaviours – our actions, habits and so on
  • Capabilities – our particular skills and abilities and our knowledge
  • Our beliefs – I can/I can’t, I should...
  • Our values – corporate culture, individual core values, what matters
  • Identity – who and what I am, my overall purpose and vision
  • Spiritual – our sense of being part of a whole

One of the most important things to recognise about this way of looking at the world is that the solution to a problem is often to be found at the level above the level at which it is perceived. So, for example, if you have a problem with the visual aids on offer at the venue for your presentation (environment), it may be that you need to learn how to make the best use of them (behaviour). If you think you are incapable of giving a good presentation, maybe you are suffering from limiting beliefs.

If you go on a presentation skills training course, it will probably focus on the first three levels.

Environment

This covers preparation and practical elements, including the following:

  • Length and timing, programme, introductions
  • Room, lighting, seating, acoustics, visual aids, equipment and furniture.

Behaviours

Behaviours that are part of giving good presentations include

  • What to do and what not to do
  • Using the visual aids correctly.

Capabilities

This embraces your ability to:

  • Understand the brief or requirement
  • Construct and prepare
  • Deliver effectively
  • Follow-up.

These are all important aspects of presenting, but an emphasis at capability level (here’s what you should do – now go and do it) often doesn’t work because it’s not enough.

For example, it is no use having a high level of skill if you don’t believe you can apply it.

Beliefs and values

Many potentially good presenters find that limiting beliefs get in the way: for example, they won’t like me because of my... big nose, unusual hairstyle, speech impediment, fat tummy, posh accent, strange dress sense or bizarre gestures and so on.

Something to ponder

Everyone has something they don’t like about the way they look, sound or come across. And it’s always more important to the person themselves than to the audience.

Think back to the list you made of presenters you admire. Among the public figures, there will be many who transgress the conventions of speech, dress and delivery. Do their idiosyncrasies prevent them from being successful? It’s often these quirks of personal style that make them memorable and endearing.

Example

TV eccentrics who have elbowed their way onto the screen through force of personality, knowledge of their subject and sheer enthusiasm include Patrick Moore, David Bellamy, Keith Floyd, Sister Wendy, Magnus Pyke, Jilly Goolden, Heinz Wolff, Steve Irwin, Barbara Woodhouse, Mr Motivator and Two Fat Ladies.

Passion

A high level of skill is also of little value if you don’t really care about the result. Again, this comes down to your beliefs and values. Successful speakers have passion. They believe in what they are saying and they need people to understand and relate to it. It is that level of enthusiasm and sincerity that truly engages us.

Your success as a speaker depends upon just few things, the most important of them being the depth and strength of your desires. If you care enough about a result, you will most certainly attain it.

Identity

How does ‘I am someone who presents’ differ from ‘I am a presenter’? What would be the impact on your identity of a belief such as ‘I am not very good at presenting’?

  • What beliefs do you have now about yourself as a presenter?
  • What beliefs would be more helpful to you?
  • What values do you need in order to take on being a good presenter at identity level? (What is important to you about it?)

We tend to generalise our own experiences. For example, I do one presentation during which the audience is hostile. I don’t know what to do, and feel awful. I now decide that all audiences are awful and I’m no good at presenting. Generalising from this experience, I assume every future presentation will be the same.

This involves a mental operation that changes the external description of an experience into an internal assessment of identity: ‘That was an awful presentation’ becomes ‘I’m no good at presenting’.

If you have a belief that you are no good at presenting, you will create situations that prove your belief to be correct.

So you deliver a great presentation, but think you haven’t – because of your belief. Someone comes up and says ‘That was really great!’ and you say ‘Oh, thanks very much’. But as you walk away you think ‘They only said that to be nice’. You have to do this in order to hold on to your belief.

Helpful beliefs for presenters

  • Everyone has their own unique model of the world.
  • To have rapport with another person, it is essential to respect their model of the world.
  • The meaning of the communication is the response you get.
  • There is no failure, only feedback.
  • Resistance in an audience is a sign of lack of rapport.
  • There are no resistant audiences, only inflexible presenters.

How to become a good presenter

The hard way is to learn all the rules, to be flawless in your delivery and to make no mistakes. It’s capability learning – what to do and what not to do.

There’s an easier way, where you learn how it works and develop a style that includes your personal quirks. Then you don’t have to learn to behave differently from normal when you present.

Grim determination and striving for results are often counter-productive. The qualities that will enhance your presentations and speed your progress include

  • Curiosity
  • Patience
  • Humour and a playful attitude.

There’s a lot of training available on the subject of presenting. This can be a good way to learn the basic skills. Often, however, there is an unfortunate emphasis on what not to do. For example, you might be told the rules of body language.

  • Don’t play with the pens.
  • Don’t put your hands in your pockets.
  • Don’t turn your back to the audience.
  • Don’t cross your arms.
  • Don’t sway from side to side.
  • Don’t touch your nose (people will think you’re lying).

You most emphatically do not need this list. None of these things are wrong in themselves. It’s only when they are repeated over and over that they become irritating, so that eventually your audience won’t be able to pay attention to anything else.

Tip

When you begin presenting, make a point of doing all the supposedly wrong things one after the other. This will magically free up your body language and soon your hands will start working in concert with your words.

It’s perfectly reasonable to feel self-conscious – you are standing in front of a group of people who are looking at you, trying to interpret and understand you. But don’t start doing something different; use your own body language. Throw away all the rules except one – no repetition.

It’s more helpful to focus on the positives, on what you do want to do.

  • Do have a strong opening.
  • Do smile and make eye contact.
  • Do keep your main points to a minimum.
  • Do summarise.
  • Do finish on time.

Advanced training or coaching, individually or in small groups, may also work well as you become more experienced. Most people find the greatest value they get from training is an increased confidence in themselves – an additional faith in their ability to achieve. And what is more important for success in almost any field?