October Event Review: “Presenting for Impact: Skills to Increase Influence and to get Results” with Mayla Clark, Stanford Leadership Academy Coach, Principal at Executive Speaking Skills
By Geoff Anderson
There are three key takeaways from this session:
- Presence – how you deliver the presentation
- Organization – how to create impactful presentations, and not fill with fluff
- Thinking on your feet – how to handle unpredictable exchanges
Consider the types of presentations that you are to make, from large, formal presentations to large groups, to small intimate presentations, with and without visual aids, and the ultimate goal is to communicate your point clearly, concisely, and with persuasion. All presentations have a persuasion component, as you are trying to get something done, or to communicate clearly.
Mayla began by showing the introduction to Daniel Pink’s TED talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrkrvAUbU9Y). In this video, Dan tells a story relating to a time in his past, that is both amusing, somewhat self-deprecating, and yet totally relatable by the audience. He is connecting with the audience in a way that may or may not be appropriate, but clearly, in the first tenth of his TED talk, he has hooked his audience’s attention.
Mayla did caution that this sort of introduction, or even telling of a joke, may not be appropriate, depending on the audience. Only you can be the judge of that.
I – Presence
Presence is more than just body language, or verbal skills and cues, but includes the series of actions you take to ensure that you convey a clear message to your audience.
In short you need to:
- Own your space – If possible, stand up, take a position near the front of the room. This can help focus attention on you, the presenter, and to capture the audience. Walk around (but not too much). This keeps people focused on you. You can also use other movements, but not so much they are distracting. Again, find a compromise that you are comfortable with.
- Posture – Stand naturally, with your hands at your sides. Avoid the “fig leaf” where you hold your hands clasped in front of your crotch. That will draw the attention of the audience to some place you don’t necessarily want them looking! Try not to be closed, or hunched. The audience got up and practiced this during the session.
- Movement – Walk around (if appropriate, and there is room). This helps you “own” the space.
- Gestures – use your hands, or other non-verbal gestures. This could be opening your hands up, using motions to simulate an action, or other things. Try not to overdo this though, as it can get ridiculous. Keep your hands up and out. Remember, when people are seated, their eyes often follow to the hands. Put that to good use to highlight parts of your presentation that are important.
- Voice – Make sure everybody can hear you. If you don’t have a projecting voice, use a microphone and amplification. Do not use “fillers” like ‘uh’, ‘um’, ‘so …’ and other nervous ticks. This can be a very difficult habit to break, so to work on it, practice in a car, while recording your speaking with your phone. Listen to the recording, and work on reducing this nervous habit. Also, consciously use the “pause, breathe, speak” method to force a cadence. This helps slow the delivery, give you time to gather your thoughts, and your audience time to digest what you just said. This is a very important delivery device.
II – Organization
One “given” is that almost universally you are on a tight schedule, and have a presentation inserted at the last minute. Without enough time to properly prepare, your instinct is to take several existing decks, and begin tossing slides together. However, this often yields a poorly received presentation.
Instead, Mayla recommends a few steps to help focus your efforts.
First – Organize offline. That is, without rifling through decks, look for material to toss together. Write down on a piece of paper the following four things:
- What is the main message/ purpose of the presentation? Is it a roadmap for a key customer? An elevator pitch for a VC meeting? A status update for a critical stakeholder? Document your intent.
- What do they need to know. Just the facts, no embellishments. Is it the last quarterly numbers? The global attach rate? Marketing programs to increase the sales funnel?
- From this, pick 3 or 4 main points. This should be really simple if you have done the two prior parts. If you find that you have 8 key points, you need to do more distillation.
- What action do you expect your audience to take? Is it to write a check (from a VC)? Or to help with lead generation activities? If you can’t identify a call to action, why are you presenting?
Second – create order out of chaos. Using the outline you put together above, begin creating your deck. Start with the main points, and fill out below. Think of this as a pyramid with the key item at the top, and then the justification is filled out below. All too often, the strategy is to toss a bunch of slides in and then get to the main point. Turn that on its head.
One review trick is to go to a random slide, and ask why the audience cares about this. If you can’t identify why, consider losing the slide. Keep the deck crisp.
Third – make the ask. You are presenting to get a result, and if you aren’t in sales (and Product Management isn’t Sales), be sure there is a clear ask at the end of the deck, a call to action. Don’t be shy, ask for it, whether it is approval to move forward on a project, or to pass a checkpoint, or some other request.
III – Thinking on your feet
Thinking on your feet is an important attribute for successful presenters. No matter how well prepared you are, somebody in the audience will ask a question that might rock you back on your heels . This is natural, but the difference between a good presenter and a great presenter is the ability to respond, to answer the question, and to “win” a convert.
Mayla mentioned that her more formal sessions spend a lot of time on this, but for this truncated session, she was going to focus on one technique that works well.
The PREP Model
The PREP model is an acronym for “Point – Reason – Example – Point”. It means that in a short exchange, you can state a point, give a brief reason, followed by an illustrative example, and lastly, reiterating the point.
At this point, Mayla again went to YouTube to share an interview with Larry Sonsini, partner at one of the great Silicon Valley law firms, (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qw7DQvJfQ_s ) that illustrated the PREP model perfectly.
A reporter asked why he, a long time player in Silicon Valley, thought that the valley remained relevant through many changes in technology, and he replied that Silicon Valley is driven by the maturity of the companies (point), by looking at the growth of disruptive companies (reason), like Apple, HP, Cisco and others (example), the valley has matured and remained relevant in this age of globalization (point repeated). A classic use of the Prep model.
To recap, make a point, use a reason to explain it, give a concrete example to ground it, and then repeat the point to keep it targeted – the second repetition won’t feel redundant.
Presence is critical for effective presentations. The key is to practiced, use your phone to record, and train yourself to not use verbal tics, or other distracting habits. Use the technology that you have at your fingertips.
Adrenaline and the nerves that generate it can be channeled to help you focus. Don’t let it rule you, and ruin your presence and capabilities.
These tips are easy to understand, but require practice to use. Practice with an audience, or a coworker. There are other places to learn in a group – Toastmasters is one. But pick a few themes and begin practicing!
Geoff Anderson has been in product management and product marketing for nearly 20 years in industries ranging from semiconductor capital equipment, to networking hardware, enterprise software, and industrial measurement equipment. firstname.lastname@example.org