Thursday, January 23, 2014

3 Steps to a Killer Presentation - Pt. 2
Physical Presence

Did you miss Part 1? CLICK HERE

The second key to be considered for a killer presentation is Physical Presence.  How do you stand?  How do you move?  Do you move at all?  How do you carry yourself.  Some people are blessed with a beautiful countenance, handsome chiseled features, fair skin, evenly proportioned bodies... I'm not one of them.  If you have that working for you - good for you.  If you have a natural charisma that is splendid too.  If you don't, does that mean you are doomed to failure in public speaking?  Certainly not!  But there are some things you should and can do build and strengthen your public speaking persona.

The biggest challenge people face is the ability to merely stand in front of an audience with confidence.  If you are an individual with low self-confidence or low self-esteem, then certainly and unfortunately you have your work cut out for you.  You will have to want to change this about yourself, and if you are able to take that step, I recommend you take an improv class to help you do it, like those taught at the SAK Comedy Lab in Orlando, Florida. 
Improv classes are not just for those who want to perform improv.  They can be beneficial to anyone.  They will help you build the foundation necessary to stand in front of people, vulnerable to the extent that all eyes (and ears) will be on you, and you hope to look professional and presentable.

The problem of stage fright is not really fear of the stage - it is fear of failure in one form or another - failure in how you look; how you speak; the integrity of the message or information you are delivering; or failure in the eyes of those for whom you are delivering the message.  Granted, that's a lot of pressure, but imagine if you were guaranteed that every person watching or listening to you would think you look spectacular; if every word out of your mouth were true, eloquent, encouraging and spot on; if those who you represent will raise a glass to you and your successful presentation upon your return.  Would you feel nervous or frightful then?  I doubt it.  But unfortunately, that's not our world is it?  So we hedge our bets wherever we can.  When you learn improv, you actually learn to embrace failure - it's the way improvisers learn to push themselves to their full potential.  The same is true for athletes.  When training with weights, it's the entire goal of the workout - to work the muscle to failure, so that when it heals, it rebuilds stronger so that you have more potential.  The same thing happens in improv class to help strengthen you with your confidence and physical presence.  And as a bonus, you now live your life with less fear of failure, and if and when you do fail, (you will - we all do one time or another), you have skills and the presence to recover quickly and move on.

If you are lucky to have a healthy level of self-confidence, you are well ahead of the game, but there are still a few things you can consider to help you even more.  Here are several quick tips.  To see what you might need, video yourself making your presentation.  If you don't have a presentation ready, simply recite the Pledge of Allegiance as if you were declaring your allegiance to the flag before a group.
Stand Straight, Stand Tall - Just like your mother used to tell you.  Don't slouch.  Standing straight and tall shows confidence and strength.  Are you sitting on a chair, couch or stool for your presentation?  (Panels are often set up this way).  Simple adjustment, and once again channel your mother or grade school teacher: Sit up straight.  Ever notice on talk shows how the guests sit?  They sit up straight and to help them they sometimes sit toward the front edge of the seat.  Try it.
Stand Still - Constant movement can be very distracting.  The end result of distractions of any kind is; you lose your audience.  Do you constantly shift weight from one foot to the other?  Quit it.  If you are a pacer, (I am), you want to make sure you are not doing it too much where it becomes a distraction.
Move Around - Does this seem like a direct contradiction to the previous tip?  Possibly, but beware the trap of standing in one place the entire time.  This can also desensitize your audience and once again you run the risk of losing them.  Strategic movement throughout your presentation will help keep it active and flowing.  Especially consider some movement if you find yourself gripping the podium.  This is a sign of stress and the movement might help keep you relaxed.  If you are on a wireless microphone or lavaliere mic, (or have no mic at all), consider all the movement choices available to you.  You have 3 planes of movement.  Yes, you are 3 dimensional.  You can move left or right, up and down, forward and backward.  Once again, you do not want to be in constant movement, but limited and strategic movement can benefit you and make your presentation more powerful
Smile - Don't forget to smile.  You don't have to smile incessantly, just bear in mind that your expression and countenance can greatly or adversely affect your delivery.  Especially be aware not to get too serious in your delivery.  Maybe a better tip is: Don't frown.  Some say smiling requires fewer muscles than frowning.  Who knows if that's true but I do know from experience a dour expression from someone speaking to me does not feel as nice as a pleasant expression.  Usually the tightening of the facial muscles is simply the result of feeling stressed.  So if you notice it in yourself you can choose to relax a bit.  Furthermore, if you are conscious about smiling (or at least choosing a pleasant expression), you will automatically relax yourself.
Breathe - Breathing is a great way to allow yourself to relax and minimize some stress on your body.  Look for breaks in your presentation where you can take in a deep breath or two.  Perhaps when you say something funny, breath while they laugh; or while they are looking at a visual aid you present.
Breath Support - This is different than breathing, or breathing deep, but is connected.  Any actor will tell you the importance of breathing from your diaphragm to aid in speaking.  If you feel strain in your voice or your throat hurts you are probably supporting your speaking from your upper chest and neck.  This is very hard on your body and if you present often you know how easily it can lead to loss of voice and laryngitis.  Fully supported breathing sounds stronger and more resilient.  Strained voice and breathing can weaken your message.  To breathe from your diaphragm is a learned skill.  I suggest you look it up on the internet.  Go to Google or YouTube and search "breathing from your diaphragm." I guarantee you'll find plenty of information about it.
Tics, Quirks and Um... - Some of these are controllable and some are not so much.  At least you should be aware of any of these, physical or verbal, that you might want to look at.  These can be heavy distractions and can easily desensitize your audience, thereby limiting the effectiveness of your message.  Some of these can be minimized or controlled simply by being aware of them.  Many people who say "um" or "uh" a lot, don't even know they're saying it so much.  For many it is a go to "filler" when speaking in public - it covers while they review the next point or see what comes next.  Even our president Barack Obama has a noticeable "ah" stutter in his speech pattern.  The cast of SNL knows this very well and relies on it heavily for their Obama impersonations.  The key is to be aware of it and work on controlling it if you can.  Fortunately for President Obama, he has much strength in the other areas discussed here that balance out and minimize the impact of the speech problem.

There may be other things to consider as well, but attention to these listed will improve your presentation skills immensely, possibly exponentially.

Next installment: Part 3 of 3 - Energy Management

Friday, January 17, 2014

3 Steps to a Killer Presentation

I was talking today with a client about presentations and presentation skills and centered on 3 wonderful keys that will lead to a successful presentation.  See if any of these might help you.  You need to think about 1) Content; 2) Physical Presence; and 3) Energy Management

Other words that apply here: story, message, topic, theme.  Obviously you must know what it is you're speaking about.  You must be knowledgeable about your topic.  If your presentation is based on an experience you've had you've got this in the bag.  Easy peasy.  If it's a story about someone else or something not directly involving you make sure you've done your research and your due diligence as far as fact checking.  There's nothing worse than a heckler interrupting with a question or comment concerning wrong information.  If it is a topic you're passionate about that's a huge plus.  Your passion will speak volumes.  If the topic is technical in nature, your passion about the subject matter could make or break the success of your presentation, especially if you are presenting to a non-technical audience.  Perhaps you've been assigned material to present that you are not passionate about or even super familiar with. Fear not!  You can still be successful if you incorporate the other keys noted.  Now that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to understand as much about your topic as possible.  Get out there and get to know your topic, as best you can.  But limitations on your knowledge base or accompanying information does not have to spell certain disaster.  You can still disseminate important or relevant information without boring your audience to death.

Next Post: Physical Presence [the second key to a killer presentation]

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