Presentation coaching

Presentations are a much-needed skill as a leader.

I’m thinking you’re probably facing one of three main situations.

  1. You’re presenting at a conference

  2. You’ve got an important internal presentation to make

  3. You’re pitching a project or idea for funding/approval.

Let’s think about each in turn. (If you think you need broader support as a leader, check out leadership coaching.)

Presenting at a conference?

Conference programmes promise so much, but they often disappoint. Conferences are full of restless people, hoping for something to engage them.

Two things are particularly acute right now:

(a) With budgets tight, gone are the days when people turned up because they were vaguely interested in the topic.

Now you have a room full of people who have either had to argue strongly for the budget from their bosses or even paid out of their own pockets to be there. Even if the event is free, people's time isn't.

(b)  Companies don't have many face-to-face meetings anymore. One of my global banking clients told me that pretty much all presenting that happens inside their company is done via conference calls and video. It's quite rare to be in the same country as your listeners, let alone in the same room.

Speaking at a conference, therefore, is a precious opportunity.

You will be physically there, right there in front of a group, a group with low expectations, but high hopes. By the time you get in front of them, they will have suffered through bland presentation after bland presentation, hoping to hear something useful (or at least relevant) before they hit the buffet.

If you can deliver an interesting, professional, practical, warm presentation you are going to impress the hell out of them. It's not often you have an opportunity to be a hero, but speaking at a conference is one of them.

Think about it: If you do this talk right, how will the people at this conference be better?

  • What impact will your recommendations or insight have on their businesses, their days, and their lives?

  • How will getting to grips with your topic make things more efficient, more cost-effective, safer, easier, more flexible, more fun?

You could do some good, here, right?

Presenting internally?

Doing a presentation to colleagues is a pretty significant opportunity to establish your credibility, let alone the effect doing this well might have on the success of your project. I imagine you’ve done similar presentations before, but this one is a significant step up.

Pitching for funding?

We all know that doing a pitch is actually an inefficient and unfair way of choosing which idea gets backing, but it’s a fact of life. The pressure in these situations can be particularly acute as, basically, your life forks depending on how well you do.

Coaching with me will be worth it if:

  • This presentation is a significant opportunity for you; it's a major industry conference, it's a keynote, it’s an important pitch and/or it exposes you to your customers/peers in a very visible way.

  • You want to look good and sound good while you do good.

  • The thought of doing this talk is taking over your life. You're either figuratively or literally losing sleep over it, and you just want to get it sorted. At the same time, you want to know you're going to do your absolute best, so you can get on with your real job (and your freaking life), already.

  • You want to start doing more talks at more conferences or internally, so it's time to level up your presentation skills.

  • This is the first time you've done such a major presentation and you want to do it right. But you don't know how to even begin thinking about it and you're stuck, or you've come to the end of your resources and still don't feel ready.

When we work together on your presentation, I can help you in four major areas.

1. Planning interesting, relevant, timely content.

2. Getting ready for Q&A.

3. Feeling calm and relaxed.

4. Developing a professional speaking style.

Plus: Getting answers to your secret questions about presentations.

Here's what that means for you...

1. We will make your topic attractive and interesting by putting together a do-able, flexible plan. You'll relax knowing you're not going to babble, you're not going to bore, and you're not going to be thrown off track.

We will not be working on essays or scripts.

Thing is, no one probably taught you how to prepare for a presentation, so you end up with two models: an essay or a scripted speech.

A modern presentation is not an essay. Verbal communication is significantly different from written communication. People can skim a document for what's relevant, but they can't skim your talk.

Having real-live people there means you have an amazing chance to affect them, to help them, in a very immediate way. At the same time you can build your name and your company's reputation, if that's your thing. Turning yourself into a speaking document squanders this chance.

But doing a 'speech' is not much better. Who does a speech? Presidents and prime ministers do speeches. Famous people do speeches -- commencement speeches that end up on YouTube.

There are several downsides to this model.

Scripts are brittle. If you end up with less time, or more time, or something changes that day that affects your topic, or the speaker just before you debunks (or affirms) what you're about to say, it's incredibly difficult to adapt.

Scripts make it difficult to keep contact with your listeners, they sound odd, and they are incredibly difficult to write well.

So, essays and scripts do you no favours.

Instead, we're going to get you a plan. A flexible plan. As a speaker in the real world, your plan needs to be flexible, so that if things change on the day, you'll be able to adapt and keep your flair. You need a plan that is well within your capabilities to deliver, so it's not nerve-wracking.

  • Your plan will be neither a document-disguised-as-PowerPoint, nor a script. It will be sufficient to keep you on track whilst not being brittle.
  • Your plan will get people's interest from the beginning with no gimmicks, jokes, or strangeness.
  • It will get the important people in your group to sit up and pay attention.
  • It will be on the right topic and be the right length for your time slot.
  • It will be interesting, clear, and pitched at the right level, even for a mixed group.
  • It will not require you to do anything you can't do naturally.
  • (And by putting it together, you will learn important principles of effective spoken communication, so that the next time you have to put a talk together, you'll have a place to start.)

So. You finish your talk and what happens next? The Q&A.

2. Show people you know what you're talking about (even if, secretly, you feel like a fraud) through effective Q&A strategies.

These strategies will allow you to encourage people to ask good questions, and know how to answer those questions -- especially the weird and difficult ones.

You will know how to get a variety of lively questions, not tumbleweed silence.

The Question & Answer session of a presentation can make or break your credibility. As such, there are two major pitfalls to avoid.

The first danger is not getting to the As because there are no Qs. I have a near-infallible method for getting quality questions. I'll share it with you and we'll practice it until it comes naturally to you. Let's just say that planning for good questions starts way before the end of your talk.

Once you have people asking questions, the second danger comes when you answer them.

You'll know how to answer even difficult questions with ease.

There are loads of factors that make questions difficult to answer. Think about it.

  • People ask unexpected questions.

  • They ask questions because they are annoyed.

  • They ask questions because they are very focused on their own situation.

  • They ask questions with the hostile intent of tripping you up.

  • Or they ask you something you truly can't answer, because your knowledge on that part of the topic is not that deep.

There are ways of dealing with all of these types of questions, and we can practice them together.

I'll get you familiar with strategies for dealing with hostility, and I'll show you how to say, 'I don't know,' while still maintaining your credibility.

So if Q&A is a concern, we'll sort it.

With the presentation plan and Q&A sorted, we're left with two main aspects. Well, two and a bit.

3. You will learn how to keep it together, emotionally, before, during and after the presentation, by directly working on lowering your adrenalin. You'll swap nerves for something more like calm confidence.

 

Presentations provoke a big old morass of feelings. Excitement. Hope. But also: Fear. Dread. The Nerves.

I work with speakers to deal better with the emotional side of doing a talk.

Adrenalin makes smart people weird.

Adrenalin directly affects your ability to think clearly, to remember and to respond subtly to situations. Why do you think so many people read out their slides? They do it because their minds are empty of anything but fear, and so they turn to the slide to try to desperately remember what the hell they were meant to say.

 

  • Over-rehearsing which kills your presentation comes from trying to defend against too much adrenalin.

  • Talking too formally which disconnects you with your listeners comes from too much adrenalin.

  • Talking too fast which lowers your status in people's minds comes from too much adrenalin.

Presentations feel like survival situations, and they're really not. The safer you feel about standing up there, the more alive and responsive, smart and funny, flexible and likeable you can be.

Being less nervous means you can actually start looking forward to the talk and, when presenting, have the higher functions of your brain available to you, as opposed to blind panic.

There are lots of ways to approach nerves, from changing your mental model of presenting, to overt relaxation practices (the kind that sportspeople use to get in an optimal frame of mind when competing).

Depending on your needs, I'll teach you what you need to do to feel calmer and safer about presenting.

And then we only have one more aspect to work on: your style a.k.a. your body language and your voice.

4. You will take steps towards a more credible, professional, dynamic, assured speaking style by implementing practical, non-weird principles of verbal communication. (You'll also be able to relax, knowing you don't have a 'thing'.)

Style shouldn't matter, but it does.

The way you speak to people really does count. Your voice, your pace, your gestures, your facial expression... it's all important.

There are two bits of good news here. First, you don't have to do anything that appals you -- if you're thinking you have to turn into some cartoon high-energy version of yourself, you don't. In fact, quite the opposite.

The second bit of good news is: You don't actually have to be very conscious of most of it. "Now do facial expression." "Make gesture of commitment here..." No. No need.

In truth, you only need to focus on three aspects of style. None of them are difficult to do, and when you get them, you'll be delivering talks with body language that signals credibility.

This may well require us to watch you on video. Very few people look forward to this, but it’s hard to improve without it. I used to teach presentation skills classes without a camera, and everyone improved, and everyone could see that everyone else had improved, but they didn't think that they had. Silly.

So if you want to work on your style (and I would recommend it -- I've never met a speaker who didn't need to hear the impact of, for example, slowing down), we’ll need either a face-to-face session or both be somewhere with excellent WiFi.

You'll walk away much more aware of your strengths, and less worried about the impression you create. Depending on the size of the conference, we'll also practice the subtle things you need to do to keep the attention of a larger group.

I'll make it as painless as possible. Think of it as a lab where we safely experiment with different aspects of presenting.

And then that extra bit I mentioned.

Extra: You can ask all your secret questions.

You are bound to have loads of nitty-gritty questions about the actual process of presenting.

  • Should you stand behind a podium or get a walk-around microphone and if it's one you hold in your hand how do you hold it without looking like you're about to sing karaoke?

  • What should you put on the slides and how do you interact with them professionally?

  • If you have handouts, when should they be given out?

  • What should you wear?

  • How do you keep track of time?

  • What do you do if you just freeze up?

  • How do you know how long your presentation is going to take?

  • You've seen people do this thing on a TED talk and how do you do that too?

  • What the hell do you put on the blurb about your talk?

  • What about your 'speaker bio'?

It's okay. There'll be space inside your coaching session for us to discuss everything that's on your mind. You can keep asking questions right until your time is up.

So those are the four (and a bit) aspects we'll cover. How much we focus on each depends totally on what you need.

Let's be clear. You don't want coaching (with me) if:

 

  • This is a relatively minor talk, with little impact on your future; if you're just trying things out, with not much at stake.

  • You want a slick, PowerPoint-heavy, rockstar-type presentation or something that resembles a comedy stand-up routine.

  • You want significant slide design advice.

  • You don't think there's much you can do to improve, in fact you're pretty doubtful about the whole process, but your boss/significant other thinks it's a good idea.

  • Your talk is tomorrow. (Sorry.)

I have packages for most budgets, so get in touch, we’ll book a quick chat, iron out the details, and get going!