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Whatever your level, great presenting skills are an essential part of leadership. Those who can communicate effectively and demonstrate solid persuasive speaking skills go further. They’re able to engage others with their ideas and, in today’s increasingly critical knowledge economy, they’re better recognised and rewarded as a result.
But what exactly do we mean when we refer to business presenting? And how is it different to other forms of public speaking?
Some of the commonly thought of forms of speaking – say, a speech at your best friend’s wedding – contain some sense of ceremony; they’re a performance and the primary purpose is to entertain. Speaking in a business or organisational context is different (thankfully!). There’s less worry about whether people laugh in the intended places – or hopes that you’ll get through without crying. There’s also less chance that too much drink will set you off slurring.
Business presenting has its own unique challenges, however.
It’s natural for nerves to come with the territory of any kind of public speaking, but those who can manage them aren’t crippled to the extent that is career-limiting. Don’t worry about trying to conquer your fear – some nerves can actually serve you. Instead, focus on connecting with your audience and making sure your message is compelling.
In other forms of public speaking, it’s possible to ‘fake’ confidence and still perform. But when you present in a business or organisational context, confidence comes from conviction. Manufacturing confidence in a work setting detracts from your authenticity and can disconnect you from your audience. Far more important than how you’re feeling is how your audience feels about you. The people you are speaking to are more likely to adopt your ideas or act based on your argument, if you can inspire confidence in them.
We’ve all met some tough crowds, but short of the social ladder we left behind at high school, it’s unlikely there’s been much worry about hierarchy until we begin presenting at work. Without a doubt, the stakes are high when you present to an audience that has more status or power than you. There are reputational risks to poor performance. Getting it right matters. Remaining calm and present under pressure allows those higher up to see your competence and begin to build trust in your abilities.
While you likely had tonnes of warning about your best friend’s wedding, the same isn’t always true at work where your ability to prepare can be limited by factors outside of your control. You may be called on when you weren’t expecting it and put on the spot. Very few people find speaking off-the-cuff easy, and most actively try to avoid it. If you can make the most of these opportunities, you cultivate a reputation of openness and generosity (not to mention, show that you know your stuff!) What you present doesn’t have to be complicated; work to distil your ideas into a simple, actionable message.
Creating messages that resonate
I’ve just said that simple, actionable messages work, but there’s a caveat: empathy. Messages and ideas fall flat and fail to connect when we focus on what matters to us, as opposed to what matters to those we’re speaking to. Turn complex data and analysis into insights that can solve something for them. Use stories that resonate with them to engage and inspire. The more you demonstrate that you understand your audience’s needs, fears, frustrations, desires and hopes, the more open they will be to your ideas.
There’s not much worse than an unexpected broadside that leaves you dumbstruck. However, delivering great answers is a huge credibility builder. Make sure some of your preparation time goes towards predicting and practicing responses for the curly questions that could get hurled your way. Handling objections with grace and holding your ground is paramount to presenting well.
Sweaty palms and shaking voices aside, business presenting is distinct from other forms of public speaking. Master how to deal with these unique challenges and you’ll be closer to being able to move your people, and organisation, forward with your ideas.
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