Make Your Presentation a Conversation!
By Kathy Hatala
I have never really been one to shy away from “presenting” or getting in front of people to communicate a message or an idea. For many, this can be a daunting task… just knowing you are the next to speak can cause the heart to pound, palms to sweat and anxiety to kick in. The key thing I try to remember is presenting is really about talking and having a conversation – whether there is one person in the room, or a full presentation in front of colleagues, executives, the C-suite, industry panel, etc. I tap into “my confidence factor” by being prepared on the subject matter and as ready as possible for any question or curve ball. Finding a passion around presenting usually has to do with the subject matter and speaking with authenticity. Through my Speakeasy training, I’ve learned that being a good communicator is all about tapping into what is uniquely you and connecting to yourself, which allows you to connect to others in the process.
One thing I do before a meeting, presentation, etc., is to think about what I am trying to accomplish during the time I’ve been allotted. What is the one thing I really want the listener(s) to leave with today? What is my desired outcome? At Speakeasy, we talk about “the change cycle”: unaware, aware, understand, believe and act. Where do I want my listener(s) to fall on that cycle after I am done talking/presenting? Do I want them to become aware of something? Understand the problem? Believe in my idea? Take action? It’s important to be honest with where you might realistically be able to move your audience to; change takes time and getting to “act” may not happen out of the gate. Once you determine your desired outcome, your content and messaging has to be results-focused and listener-sensitive to really make an impact and connection.
Preparation is a key element to getting it right. What I do is practice, practice, and practice. I’ll practice the presentation/talk on my commute to work, walking my dog (Maddie is a good listener!!), or better yet, take my smart phone and ask a friend or family member to video tape the presentation. There is nothing better than seeing yourself on tape and self-critiquing; or having a mentor, colleague, or coach look at the video and give you their thoughts. If you are presenting an idea over a conference call, record yourself on your phone and play back the audio, paying special attention to the energy and authenticity in your voice – are you talking in a natural voice/tone, or does it come across stiff and regimented? Remember, if you are presenting and using visuals (like PPT) don’t depend on technology – we all know it can fail at the worst moments. I try to know my subject matter so well that I can give the presentation/talk no matter what the circumstances or environment.
Planning for a presentation, or talk, does take some time but, if done right, it can help alleviate the feelings of dread and anxiety and help it to feel more conversational. I’ll share a personal story where I was not prepared. I worked for MTV Networks in Affiliate Sales and Marketing for many years. We were launching MTV2 at an annual, national cable conference. We had a suite prepared for clients to come and learn more about the new channel. I was in the room with one of the affiliate marketing leaders from MTV, who I assumed was going to pitch the network. Well, once the clients were ready, she asked me to take them through the PPT. I almost died. Not prepared, not ready and not good! I could feel the anxiety rise, my pulse increase and myself in the “hot seat.” I got through the presentation, but I can tell you, it was less than ideal. Lesson learned, and now I’ll never let that happen again.
The other key element to preparation, that I use all the time and learned through my classes, is breathing – yes, your breath. If you feel anxiety rising or “butterflies” start to flutter before your opportunity to speak or present, breathe slowly and deliberately from your belly and not your chest. I’ve learned that deep, deliberate breathing from your diaphragm really helps to calm the nerves and gets you into a sense of self and feeling “settled.”
Presenting and communicating during times of change and uncertainty can be one of the most challenging dynamics to undertake. This is where authenticity really has to kick in. Expressing yourself in your own words, owning what you say, looking at people in the eyes when you talk – not only with your head, but with your heart, can really make a big difference.
See communicating and presenting as an opportunity! Please don’t shy away from the moments in life to speak, talk, present and connect with those in the room. Own your authentic voice, be confident in who you are and what you can bring to the table and make it a conversation!
Kathy Hatala is SVP National Accounts/Managing Director – Atlanta at Speakeasy.