Power up Your Presentations: Start with These 3 Actions

Working with sales professionals to significantly improve presentation skills is incredibly rewarding – especially when new business partnerships result from the attention, effort, and hard work put forth.

It’s absolutely amazing how this one skill can take someone so far so quickly, regardless of tenure, specialty, or geography.

The one easy way to become worth 50 percent more than you are now - at least - is to hone your communication skills - both written and verbal. --Warren Buffett

This is definitely not a one-size-fits-all conversation.

With our world of work rapidly adapting and changing to support the new normal - presentation skills can often be overlooked. In person, virtual, or maybe even a hybrid combination of some people together and some on video…there are a lot of factors here.

And, in my personal opinion, there’s a real risk that one might accidentally spend a little too much time on meeting logistics, attendee coordination and slide development, instead of building relationships with those who matter, actually preparing for the presentation, and crafting the message that will be delivered.

I recently asked Matt Stadler, President, Marsh & McLennan Agency Southwest, to weigh in on this critical topic. He too is passionate about helping others develop presentation skills. He astutely observed that “most professionals spend thousands of hours mastering their specialization, but have no idea how to effectively deliver their knowledge to the people who need it.”

In my work with Matt, I often hear him remind leaders that they must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. How true is this advice when we put concerted effort towards our presentation skills.

Focusing on these three things can power up your presentations:

1. Building Your Confidence

2. Preparing and Rehearsing

3. Connecting with Your Audience

Building Your Confidence

An interesting Forbes article says only 10% of population enjoy public speaking, 10% are terrified to the point of debilitation, and the other 80% are scared and don’t like it, but find a way to make it through. The fancy term for this fear is glossophobia; and a quick internet search will most likely lead you down a rabbit hole of reading on the topic. If it fascinates you, by all means, research away.

Whether it’s a true fear of public speaking, or maybe something seemingly more benign in your world, building your confidence with your presentation skills specifically could propel your career growth.

Many sales professionals accidentally stay in their comfort zones, maybe even for reasons that seem, well…reasonable. Maybe you give the same capabilities presentation over and over to potential clients because you know the material and feel safe with it. Maybe you underprepare because there’s this global pandemic and your house is full of kids and noise and there are only so many hours in a day. Maybe you sit instead of stand because it's easier. Or maybe you sit because you feel awkward when you are only presenting to one or two people. Maybe you talk and talk and talk instead of letting others contribute. Maybe you let others step up and present so you don’t have to even venture into unknown territory.

What are you willing to do to get out of your comfort zone?

Preparing & Rehearsing

Allow me to be nuanced for just a minute - time management and time prioritization or two different topics. If you have a big presentation coming up that might make or break a project you are working on, you absolutely need to prioritize the time, regardless of what else is going on in your life, to prepare and rehearse.

In my early twenties, I hadn’t been in sales more than two years when I was lucky enough to work on a project that had both a local sales leader and an area vice president assigned to the team for presentation preparation and rehearsal.

As an aside, I often wonder how many new sales professionals, right out of college, have missed opportunities like this because of the global pandemic.

I learned very early on how to critically look at a deck being created and decide what belonged in the presentation and what belonged in the appendix or in subsequent meetings and conversations. I learned how to make slides impactful, and the verbal messaging even more so. I learned how to emulate great presenters.

Critically evaluating the steps needed to be able to deliver a dynamite presentation, let’s separate out the preparation part and the rehearsal component. All too often they might accidentally be lumped together.

Preparation might take a day, a week, a month, or much longer. There is no right or wrong answer here. Though I will suggest that you spend more time building relationships within your prospective clients than whatever amount of time you plan to spend on slide creation. While this might sound like common sense, it might not be common practice.

For rehearsal, this brief video (only 42 seconds) reminds us to rehearse alone and with others; while also taking advantage of our recording devices on our smartphones to push ourselves to get even better.

Connecting with Your Audience About 15 years ago I was presenting to a Board of Directors, and I had the good fortune of having one of my professional mentors in the room during the presentation. Afterwards, he found little critique with the presentation itself or the message delivered; but cautioned me that he observed that I was not connecting with my audience. I was coming across a bit standoffish, like I wasn’t willing to let the group see the real me.

Just last week, Matt Stadler shared this timely reminder. “Leading someone through a presentation has nothing to do with your slides – it has everything to do with your engagement and your message.”

I’ve come a long way since that feedback all those years ago. I now purposefully and intentionally try to better connect with my audiences.

Ideas to try for connecting with your audience:

  • Research anyone you’ve not met before on LinkedIn prior to the presentation

  • Use the “chat” function in virtual meetings to say hello, private message, and comment as appropriate

  • Call or message key people before the presentation to confirm alignment and ask questions about the expected experience

  • Test the technology for virtual meetings, and have a plan b (and plan c) if things don’t go as planned

  • Ask for advice and guidance from a trusted source on how best to connect with key people or the entire audience

  • Figure out how to bring value to those who will be in attendance

What you don't say is often more powerful than what you do say. Use silence strategically to emphasize knowledge, confidence and understanding. --Matt Stadler

Moving Forward

Today: spend just 5 minutes thinking about what score you’d give your presentations skills right now…and what score you would want to earn a year from now?

Tomorrow: call a trusted colleague or connection, preferably one who’s seen you present recently, and ask for advice and guidance on how to improve in the future

Next 3 – 6 Months: get enough opportunities to present! If you are only presenting occasionally, you might need to get creative. Volunteer to speak at a community event, a church service, an industry conference (even introducing another speaker, or facilitating a Q&A). Virtual or live – it will all help you on your journey!