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It was not about the beginning of his speech that Mr. Brooke was at all anxious; this, he felt sure, would be all right… Embarking would be easy, but the vision of open sea that might come after was alarming.
Middlemarch, George Eliot
Are you, like Mr Brooke, a nervous sailor when it comes to business presenting? It might depend on how you regard an open sea. The sea can be calm and smooth under an untroubled blue sky. Foils in the water, spinnaker doing whatever spinnakers do, filled with opportunity and adventure and the odd superyacht. Like Rod Stewart, we are fricking sailing, yo.
In The Deep End
But the waters of presenting can be choppy and treacherous, prone to sudden squalls that can capsize an unsteady craft. It can leave us floundering, clinging to a useless piece of flotsam like a corporate Kate Winslett, or worse, a frozen, sinking Leo. What precautions can you take to be safe in the open waters of public speaking?
Embark well. Your beginning should secure the attention of your listeners, introduce your main points, and chart your course. We suggest spending some time rehearsing this so that you can present it confidently – a well launched introduction is a cosy lifejacket for your confidence that lasts the whole trip. And you know what they say about lifejackets – they never let you down.
Ahoy! What you sail in is your preparation: the structure and content of your presentation. You want it to be leak-proof, a seaworthy vessel in which to conquer the depths of your audience’s minds. Too often we jump in a wobbly dinghy or cobble together a raft out of whatever’s lying around, hoping for fine weather. Sometimes we’ll get away with it – after all, we’re good sailors. But if the sea is hostile or the journey is through unknown shoals, or even if you’re just a little nauseous on the water, you could end up a nervous wreck.
Nothing takes the wind out of your sails – and sales – like not having enough material to power you through the length of your presentation. If you don’t know your content well enough, you’ll lack the force of argument to drive you forwards. If you get stuck here in the doldrums, your audience gets confused or bored or just seasick of you. Something to propel you through the water would be oarsome.
When you’re dog-paddling the murky waters of uncertainty, the sharks will start to circle. The best way to deal with obstacles and objections is to anticipate them with a shark cage of responses. Work those responses into your presentation and have them ready for any questions at the end. You can even launch your presentation by addressing the biggest concern, which takes its power away. Prepare for sharks: do do do do do do.
Have a clear endpoint in sight and reiterate how your argument got you there as you finish. A clear sense of how you’ll summarise and close is like having a lighthouse to aim for, its beacon bringing you safely to harbour. What’s up, dock?
Oh Captain, My Captain!
Whether your ship is KZ7 or the Titanic, our cabin is always open. Let us help you navigate the wide oceans of business presenting. Our courses on Business Presenting, Storytelling, and Influence and Persuasion are available for groups and individuals, and can be delivered in-person or virtually. Send us a message in a bottle!
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