3 simple tools that will make you stand up strong and speak without hesitation
Going to a meeting or a presentation can often a boring and seemingly endless experience. The guy or girl goes on “Stage” with a more or less well-prepared PowerPoint presentation. And maybe even a good understanding of how to present it. If you are lucky, they know how to use their voice and body language and give a decent show of it.
Even if you are decently attentive during the show, how much do you remember after? How much do you remember a month later? Did the presentation make an impact?
“If you think presentations cannot enchant people, then you have never seen a really good one.” — Guy Kawaski
Presentation skills or the art of captivating your audience is key for most professionals today. It is something you need to train and hone. Most writing and training focus on the presentation itself, but there is much more you can do to excel.
During my career, I have given and seen hundreds of presentations, and the criteria for a successful presentation remains the same: Make sure the audience take in the key points.
One of the most impactful learnings I have from my 15+ years of experience is from the time I was a Junior Management Consultant. I learned the necessity of setting the scene — creating the right atmosphere before embarking on the presentation.
In the early days of my career, I had one of the greatest teachers I have encountered throughout my professional life. He was the CEO, a Senior Consultant, an amateur magician, a teacher, and a writer. He could captivate an audience like no one I have seen since.
When he presented a topic it was not the slides that were in focus, but him. He enthralled his audience with careful words, body language and as the cherry on top: he did magic tricks. One of his favorite magic tricks was the “Disappearing water”.
When he made a point about the fragile nature of knowledge – how you can lose knowledge at any given moment. He would pour water into a seemingly empty cup, turn it upside down and no liquid would come out. This simple act would surprise the audience, get everyone engaged and drive home his points.
I will never forget the first time I experienced his show.
Preparation is king — Fools rush in
Preparations were meticulous and built on the classical philosophic work from Aristotle in his “The Art of Rhetoric”. Aristotle wrote about the three important components of a good speech — three modes of persuasion: Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.
- Ethos: Setting up your authority.
- Logos: How you use arguments to support your points and persuade the logical part of your brain.
- Pathos: Talking to your audience’s feelings. Feelings are a central element in engaging your listeners. Feelings are a strong conduit in retaining knowledge.
Nothing was left to chance. In the morning we would arrange the seating of the room to a horseshoe setup. The horseshoe supports dialogue between participants and gives a good view of the presenter. These events were typical with 30–40 people that didn’t know each other.
At the entrance, we would arrange a table with his books. Book he had written himself on the topic of the training and books he would recommend. All to establish his authority, his ethos, to prove his knowledge in the themes of the training.
Then he would have a moment to himself. To put himself into the right state of mind for the training. Not meditation as such, but breathing and a mental shift to a powerful and energetic state. He had an uncanny ability to switch his state instantly whenever he needed to. Even with a lack of sleep, he would be able to energize himself and be ready within moments.
The show would begin when everyone entered the room. Upbeat music would be blaring out of the loudspeakers. It could be music like “Happy” from Pharrell Williams (Since that song is much later, it must be one I have used). He would make sure to shake everyone’s hands and get their names. Participants would stroll past the side table with his books, before finding their seats.
When everyone had seated themselves he would ask them to stand up again. Then raise their hands above their heads and pump their fists for thirty seconds. That would get everyone’s blood pumping.
Then he would ask the participants to turn to the guy next to them, shake hands and talk for 60 seconds about who they are. That would get them comfortable with each other and create personal connections.
Then, and only then, would he start the presentation.
What can we learn from that?
The short sequence of activities, before the actual presentation, will set everything up. The participants will begin with an energetic and uplifted feeling. Right from the start.
All the elements are carefully planned to create a multisensory experience. The participants are moved physically, intellectually and emotionally. The elements are the following.
Music is one of the strongest conduits of emotions. Have you ever tried watching a horror movie without sound? Not that scary at all. Music is a fantastic tool to elicit emotions and to bring your audience into an emotional state. In the case of energy and positivity. Selecting the right music is obviously very important.
Setting up a table displaying books shows authority on the subjects you are going to present. There are many possible variations of this. Showing books you have written or related books shows the audience that you are well versed in the topic.
Doing exercise together has multiple purposes. First, when doing something together your audience will feel like they are more of a group. It will create the smallest sense of unity within the audience. This can strengthen the bond between listeners and between you and the listeners. Second, it gets blood flowing making your audience more alert and ready to listen.
A short talk with the person next to you will give you a better sense of belonging to the group. It will give room to share thoughts on the talk during breaks. Getting to know one new person will give most people a stronger experience and may leave a more permanent mark than the presentation itself.
Physical touch is a strong conduit of bonding and creating a real connection. Start with a handshake, whenever possible, and that will create a bond between you and the person who will be your audience. This bond will help you keep their attention and connect with your content.
These elements will be part of creating an experience that will have an impact on the audience. More than just going for a presentation.
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ― Maya Angelou
You can use the time before the actual presentation to establish a stronger connection with your audience. This connection will increase the engagement of your audience. Improving the energy of the room and your participants will set you up for success.
Remember three things:
- Establish Yourself up with authority and energy (Establish Ethos and control your mental state)
- Prepare the energy of the room (Arrange the room to fit your purpose and use music to elicit feelings and promote energy)
- Set your participants state of mind (Make them feel. Help them bond. Surprise them)
And then you need to deliver a killer presentation to drive it home.