I knew it would be controversial when I wrote a post a few weeks ago stating that for most professionals, public speaking training is a waste of money. I heard from trainers around the globe that their way was different and uniquely helpful. Which may be true. My point was that the majority of public speaking training is focused on the mechanics of body language and speechifying that while interesting, isn’t what the average professional is being asked to do.
Professionals need to influence others and move groups to action, present to senior executives and boards, and inspire change operationally. Most rising executives want to be noticed and secure a seat at the table.
To achieve these professional feats, they need presence, credibility, and passion.
And yes, you can learn these skills in some presentation trainings — just not in most of them.
My advice to anyone out there who is considering honing their presentation skills: if you opt for training, make sure your instructor will be able to show you how to do the following.
1. Get comfortable.
It’s stating the obvious, but for most people, presenting is difficult when it’s uncomfortable. Staring down a board of directors with bad news, for example, might be one of those times. Or proposing a new business line to the senior team.
You’ll do better if you can find a way to be as calm as possible, given the stressful situation. For many people, this means practicing so you feel you have the information down pat. For others, it’s figuring out what gets you in the zone — deep breathing, music, laughter, warm-up conversations in the room, etc. I recommend setting a situational intention (discussed here) to focus your conscious thoughts behind the emotion you want to impart to others.
2. Accept discomfort.
If the stakes are high, no matter how much you try to get comfortable, some butterflies are going to remain. Instead of trying to eradicate the feeling or letting it spiral, accept the anxiousness. Acknowledge it, and realize that it has no bearing on your performance. At all. You can physically perform just as well, nervous or not.
Plus, nerves can even help you emote and show energy. After all, nervousness is excitement directed inward.
3. Speak to the individuals, not the group.
Common public speaking advice is to know your audience. But in typical corporate presentations, which are to groups and teams, you do know them. The problem is that they are all over the map in what they care about so it can be hard to tailor comments. A frequent misstep is to try to cover everyone’s concerns or speak to the middle.
Learning to top-line your points to hit the right ones is a critical skill. For mixed groups, my general advice is to speak to the highest level in the room in the level of detail they care to know. Let the others ask questions to fill in the gaps or clarify specifics. Meetings gravitate to the highest level naturally.
Remember, you are speaking to individuals with individual concerns. Don’t litter your comments with what you care about the most, and beware of falling in love with your content. It’s about the other person, not about you.
4. Bring double the passion, and half the content.
Corporate presentations generally have too much detail, slides, and content and are delivered flatly. Now we do this with good intent. We want to make sure we cover any questions and show that we know our stuff. Unfortunately though, well-cited research shows that people forget about 90% of what they learn within 3-6 days. So while it’s smart to get your content down, we generally over steer on the amount of it. (Hint: Put non-essential slides in an addendum to have just in case.)
If you want to be memorable, put equal focus on bringing energy and passion to your presentation. Show how much you care through stories, examples, imagery, and dialogue. People forget what you said but remember how you made them feel. Your presence plays a large role in that.
Plus, there’s power in a passionate purpose. We invest psychically in people we feel have the wherewithal to make change happen.
5. Ignite discussion, don’t replace it.
Most corporate presentations aren’t speeches at all — they’re discussions. You’re aim is not to use up the air time with your points, but to incite discussion and facilitate outcomes. If people are talking then they’re engaged.
Any presentation can be constructed as facilitation. Create your main points, ask a pointed question, and manage comments. Then repeat. This skill takes practice, so learn it any way you can, whether through a training or observation of others.
People will feel far better about your ideas if they felt that you wanted and accepted their input. Plus, any idea that feels like it’s ours we’re more likely to buy into. And isn’t buy-in of our ideas the ultimate goal?
Comment here or @kristihedges.
Kristi Hedges is a leadership coach, speaker and author of Power of Presence: Unlock Your Potential to Influence and Engage Others. She blogs at kristihedges.com and Forbes.com.