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May 24, 2008

The Art of Presenting – Part II

If a consultant is going to actually master the Art of Presenting, then in my view the most important rule to understand is the Rule of Presence. (#1) If you are going to have a room enthralled, and if they are going to remember what you tell them, then you need to have a bit of a “wow” factor.

For those of you who are (ahem) cosmetically challenged like myself, then you will be pleased to know that creating a strong presence does not depend on your looks! Its an aura you generate. Check out some of the worlds really good presenters and it becomes obvious. Alan Weiss, Seth Godin, Guy Kawasaki and Tom Peters.

Lets face it, none of these guys are famous for their looks. (Sorry guys!) But the moment they take the stage, (or screen), you immediately know they are there, and you feel drawn to hear what they are going to say.

Presence is somewhat in the eye of the beholder, and no two performers are the same. For example, I once saw Jerry Adams, the infamous leader of Seinn Fein in Northern Ireland, at a presentation in Manchester in the UK.

As we waited in the room for him to appear suddenly there was a shot of electricity that went through the room. This guy was like an incoming hurricane. He struck the room with a sudden fury that to this day has me amazed.

Another guy I saw speak was Andrew Forrest, an Australian entrepreneur and probably the nations richest person right now. He also hit the room like a hurricane, fierce with facts, perfectly timed phrases and tweaks at the emotions.

Then there's Bill Clinton. A guy I saw speak in Northern Ireland in a stadium. Slow, smooth, and utterly convincing. Some magic is inbuilt I suppose.

So how can the humble consultant even think to parallel great speakers like that? I have found that it is down to a few techniques.

1. Establish your Authority

Okay, so these guys had a lot of inbuilt authority. People know them and they are there to listen to their point of view. You often won't have that advantage.

But from the moment they took the stage something magic occurred. The room, which was our before they got there, suddenly became theirs! Claiming the room for yourself is not easy, but a few pointers can help.

  • Start on time – no matter what! Don't wait for anybody. Start exactly when you were paid to start and finish when you were paid to finish. The client expects it, and they should get it. Interrupting the flow for one or two late comers does not help you to claim the room as yours. It also makes it very obvious when they arrive late, and you welcome them into your room!

  • Establish your right to be there talking to them! They have been sent to your seminar/course/conference or whatever. Make sure they realize that you are the person with the authority to speak to them about whatever the subject is. Who have you done this with, what are your claims to fame, what have you written, who have you helped? And so on... make it clear. You have something very important to impart to them, and they only have this time right now to listen and learn it.

  • Your theme is important! Make sure that they all get this very clearly. What you are hear to tell them is of earth shattering importance. I have a line I tell my students in one of my courses, and I sincerely believe it. I tell them that they are the thin line between industry and disaster. Tends to get their attention; then of course I go on to prove that point to them.

  • Set the rules. If you are there for a sales call, then forget it. The rules are their rules. But if you are delivering a one day seminar, a three day course, or a multi week workshop, then you need to make it very clear what acceptable behavior is, and what it is not. Most people in my experience will be okay with this, some won't, but all will get the point that this is your room.

And whatever you do – DO NOT USE ICEBREAKERS! I hate these things, they tend to run a serious learning event into a juvenile get together. Particularly when speakers force me to interact personally with strangers around me. That really stinks.

The only safe icebreaker I ever use these days is to get everyone to tell me a bit about themselves, their work and their expectations. Then that generates a bit of conversation.

2. Set the expectations

  • This didn't begin today. You have been in touch with these people for a while now. Via the marketing materials, pre-event information, questionnaires, feedback sheet sand so forth. So you have had the chance to set their expectations of what to receive during this event. Stick to it.

  • Make it clear what you won't tell them. The subject is going to be bigger than what you can cover today, this week, or during this two week workshop. Make it clear what you won't be telling them during the event.

This has the added value of setting you up as the expert who knows more than what they are going to learn. (You are going to have to prove that of course) and also makes sure that half the work of presence is already done. They should at least know what they are going to get, and they are trusting you to deliver it to them. (Woe betide you if you blow it however)

3. Make Connections

How do you treat a room full of people? Every one is different, everyone is an individual... pretty obvious isn't it! You treat everyone as an individual person.

This means you need to be hyper sensitive to whats going on in the room.

The person who is not participating may be the brightest guy in the room but years of being held down has made her bite her tongue.

The most boisterous character in the room may actually be in fear of his job for some reason. Or worse, you may be challenging positions that are long held and hard won in their company. Meet peoples gaze, give them non verbal cues and validation, indicate to them with the back of your wrists. (Don't point! Ever!) Be careful with generalizations and always speak directly to people, not with a sweeping gaze.

Also, remember who you are talking to. If they are middle management, be deferential but be strong in your statements. If they are senior management then it is likely that they didn't get there without earning their stripes in the front lines. (Sometimes they do, but not often I find)

  • People issues

  • Recruitment issues

  • Dealing with internal politics (Getting stuff done!)

  • Messaging and internal marketing

  • Creating momentum

Always pitch your presentation at the level you are talking to. Middle managers love tactical talks, and love issues that they can relate to directly as causes of sleepless nights for them. Higher levels love to get into the link between day-to-day and more strategic goals. Some of their “words” tend to revolve around:

  • Net present value

  • Talent development and retention

  • Knowledge retention and usefulness

  • Profitability and productivity

  • Implementation and benefits realization

Lastly, if you really want to build a rapport with your delegates then relax. Easier said than done, but it gets easier with time. Remember that 99.9% of the time they want you to succeed!

  • Don't hide behind the flip charts, stand out in the open, use sweeping and inclusive gestures.

  • Be conversational, talk with them not at them, and most importantly...

  • Be confident. You are the expert after all. Aren't you?

In summary...

I have found that these are the techniques required for rule #1, the Rule of Presence. You need to sweep into the room and when you do they need to realize that you have something important that they need to hear.

  1. Establish your authority and credibility (It's your room not theirs)

  2. Set the expectations

  3. Make connections