It’s show time! Polishing your presentation skills

Last month, we told you to “be the expert” when it comes to showcasing your skills, talents, and uniqueness.

Now, it’s time to take your show on the road. Maybe it’s a 30-second elevator introduction. Maybe it’s a presentation to a potential client, or a networking event. All-in-all, it’s about strutting your stuff, making some points, and interesting others in your expertise.

Standing in front of an audience isn’t the easiest thing in the world. It doesn’t come easy to the best of them. Barbra Streisand gets stage fright. You may too.

Advance preparation inspires self-confidence.

The content

Your presentation needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. Make the beginning strong. Use the middle to substantiate the beginning. Use the ending as a closer. Keep it short. Keep it sweet.

Make sure your content is to the point. No fancy special effects will eclipse mediocre content. Think of Verdi’s “Aida” (or Elton John’s musical of the same name). A-I-D-A.

A is for Attention. Will my presentation attract my audience’s attention?

I is for Interest. Can my presentation interest my audience?

D is for Desire. Will my audience desire my product or service?

A is for Action. Will my audience take action to buy my product or service?

Be careful with the special effects. If you’re not good at PowerPoint, have someone who’s good at it design yours. If you’re reading the bullet points on your PowerPoint, you’ll be boring your audience. If you have something to stay that’s all stats and graphs, post the PowerPoint with details to your website, and tell your audience, “My stats are on my website–make note of my web address.”

One of my clients, David Pakman, producer and host of the nationally syndicated “The David Pakman Show,” is comfortable on-camera, and on-stage. At Ignite Amherst, a program where businesspeople had about five minutes to make a presentation about themselves, he developed this Power Point presentation. This is good!

Always leave time for questions and answers in your presentation…confine them to the end, so you don’t lose momentum.

The presentation

“Write as you talk” says Kathy Tobin, a television reporter and news anchor for many years, who is currently the director of Program Development at The Friends of The Homeless in Springfield, MA.

Script your copy to be heard, not read. Give yourself space to breathe. Do you have difficulty pronouncing certain sounds, like “popping the Ps” (listen to yourself say “Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Purple Peppers”) or the “Hissing S” (listen to yourself say

“Springfield Symphony Salutes Sondheim”)? If there’s too much popping or hissing, rewrite the copy. And if you are presenting a Sondheim salute, and you’re having difficulty maneuvering his lyric from “Anyone Can Whistle”—”Imperturbable perspicacity”, get out the thesaurus and use a similar, more pronounceable term like “rock solid insight.”

Tobin, who has given numerous presentations over the years, adds, “Don’t memorize your presentation, because if you draw a blank, you’re lost. Stay in the present and remember, you’re telling a story.”

Tim Holcomb, actor, entrepreneur, co-founder of the Hampshire Shakespeare Company, and DramaWorks, a company that uses theatre and acting techniques to help people feel more comfortable on stage or in the public light, says that the best presenters balance a presentation. “Success combines content, tonal (how people hear your words) and body language,” says Holcomb.

“Don’t clutch the podium, or stand stiff as a board,” says Holcomb. “Move around. Use a body mic when you can. Make eye contact with your audience. Keep them interested. If you’re in a theatre-style seating room, walk among the aisles; if you’re in a round-table setting, circle them. They’ll follow you.”

Tobin also advises, “Dress professionally and appropriately. Your look shows that you’re reputable. You’re part of the whole presentation package.”

Be careful with the special effects. A radio sales guru, Gary Swartz, gave an amazing presentation way back when to my underwriting team at WFCR. To make a point, he took an ordinary drinking straw and plunged it into an ordinary potato. It looked easy, and he taught us how to do it.

I guess I missed the part about “new potato,” because I recreated the effect at a lunchtime presentation with an older Idaho, and the flying spud crash landed in a soup tureen! Airborne pumpkin bisque always trumps marketing insights, as tasteful as they might be.

And…practice! Rehearse with a colleague. Coerce a family member to be your audience. Stand in the mirror. I’ve found that dogs and cats make good audiences. They’re non-judgmental.

Still scared? When I was an aspiring star at Yale Drama School, my professor, John B. Hightower, taught us how to make presentations. He said to me, “You’ve trained as an actor. When you’re presenting, think of yourself playing the role of a successful, comfortable-in-public executive.” Mr. Hightower was right. My stage fright (yes, I have it) disappears and my speaking, in almost any situation, appears calm and confident.

Need help?

There are many coaches around to help instill confidence in public speaking. One with a theatre background is often great, because they understand stage fright and know how to get past it.

You can reach Tim Holcomb via DramaWorks in Northampton, MA.

Editor’s note: This post is a good companion piece to one written by contributor Karen Utgoff last November, where she discussed how to prepare the best content possible for your presentations.)

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Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

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