5 tips to make the right business presentation
The way you communicate an idea is limited not by what you can do, but by what you think you can do. It's your attitude that makes the difference.
Whether it is making a sales pitch to a client or presenting an idea in a packed in-house boardroom, public presentations can make you sweat, literally.
Nightmares, irritability, being fidgety all are part of this anxiousness package. Abhinav Sood, now a seasoned presenter, head of a PR firm, Communications Inc feared floundering during his initial years. But that was 13 years back.
The 37-year-old admits still having butterflies in his stomach while reaching out to new prospective clients. "But they flutter a lot less now," he quips.
Such is the fear of addressing an audience that a whole industry has emerged in training people for effective presentation. Speaking publicly is a fear that has not even spared royalties and State heads.
Former US president Abraham Lincoln is known to have put in hard effort in practising his speeches beforehand. In fact he failed miserably in his initial attempts.
Britain's George VI, who stammered, had hired a speech coach to overcome his public speaking ordeal in 'pre-record-your-speech' days.
Corporate heads enrolling in public speaking and grooming workshops are now an open secret. Almost everyone travels the road, so when anxiousness grips you too, don't label yourself odd.
Remember, a presenter who impresses you with his skill has done a lot of homework to be able to amaze you.
What causes nervousness, trampling your ability to be an effective presenter?
Do professional contact programmes help? Or does one learn as he or she goes along?
1. Control your anxiety
Experts say that nervousness descends because presenters fear failure.
'What will the audience think about me', is what bothers a presenter the most, points out Roopali Sundar, head, Talent Management, Avaya India.
And the unfortunate element is that the fear is mostly unfounded and what the audience do care is content mostly.
David Conrad Linus, principal trainer and founder of the Institute for Communication Skills and Public Speaking (ICSPS), surmises that sometimes social and cultural upbringing induces a feeling in some that they are below accepted bench-marked levels.
"And that feeling of being less, makes them nervous," he avers.
2. Use the platform effectively
Appearing on one presentation platform can give you more anxiety than appearing on another or vice versa.
Mukesh Gupta, head, sales, Avis India, a leading car rental company agrees.
Different presentations can give you different degrees of nervous jolts, he says. For instance, he is on a different guard while delivering an internal presentation, 'because numbers and figures are known to company professionals', he says indicating that company appraises him on a few chosen parameters.
Whereas external clients assess him on a totally different plane because their requirement is pitched on a different note.
Swetha Menon, an otherwise gregarious and result-oriented PR professional, recalls going blank during one of her presentations to a client.
She reminisces, "I had delivered my pre-prepared opening lines, appraised him of my company profile, but there was no reaction from this CEO which, I felt, was weird and it numbed me."
Her boss took over, saving her further embarrassment. Stiff situations like these can play havoc to your confidence. How do you salvage yourself?
3. Overcome the monster
One effective way to combat fear is being prepared well, backed by sufficient empirical data.
Deeper the knowledge you have on the subject or topic, greater the confidence you garner.
A good grip on the subject means half the battle is won.
Primarily the anxiety is about unpredictable questions.
Gupta too had questions volleyed at him which were unexpected. "At times, an audience can stump you with an intelligent question for which you don't have an answer," he says.
When faced with a situation like this, Gupta adopts the strategy of applauding the person, seizing a winning moment with comments like "that's a nice observation" and "I will certainly add that to my presentation."
Dodging a question with senseless replies or getting into a debate is a bad idea because that 'knowledgeable person can influence others, hampering my company's image', Gupta acquiesces. He sums up. "There is no need to get worked up on questions for which you don't have an immediate answer."
But despite all the preparedness, if you still feel your stomach churning, remember, 'There is stage fear which is absolutely psychological,' comforts Dr. Ashutosh Narayan Misal, an HR trainer.
In his 13 years of experience, conducting workshops for middle-age and young candidates, he says that practice and more practice is the only answer to counter any negative emotion.
However, the expert in Behaviour Science and Communication also observers that today not many people encounter anxiety pangs. He reasons, "It may be due to exposure to and availability of information and increase in overall boldness of the generation."
But beware, despite all the buckling up and confidence-sashaying approach, strange situations can still dawn. Sood, once armed with all the PowerPoint slides, confidently strode into his client's office and commenced with his presentation. The only hitch: he talked about tourism and hospitality to his prospective IT customer.
Within five minutes he realised the goof-up and apologised to the client.
"It is better to be honest about your mistake rather than covering up," he emphasises. Sood went on to work with that client for six years.
"They sat through the presentation, perhaps thinking that I have a final connecting point to make," Sood surmises.
4. Train and gain
But audiences give you a signal, if your presentation is way-off or marked by monotony.
People yawn, lose eye contact, overall, engage less.
"Putting your hands in the pocket and reading out from a slide or a paper shows your apprehension," hints Gupta.
In order to make your presentation effective, present your point with proper voice modulation, along with right body language and facial gestures.
"One can train to develop standard dispositions in these areas," maintains Linus.
The vocal presentation ability is something that one can easily work on, he adds. Focusing on strength rather than weakness is another effective way to surmount fear.
Linus gets metaphorical, "If you want them to change the focus from big ears then grow a big nose." A dash of humour immediately puts a presenter and the audience on the same page.
"Adding humour and walking through the audience indicates high levels of confidence," says Sundar.
5. Improve your language skills
Language acts as a sensitive area which can actually make or mar your presentation.
While Europe and the West have largely one official language for communication, their language skills are not contested or scrutinised. But our position is unique in this regard.
If a talented senior manager fumbles with incorrect English grammar in front of his client, he may lose an account. Or, he may not be able to effectively highlight his achievements in in-house meeting if language plays a barrier.
Sood is apt at making language look incidental. "I am not shy to communicate in Hindi too if it underlines my conviction," he says.
Well, where career goals are aimed higher, these are but little hiccups that can be polished with practice!
Tips to keep in mind
- Anybody can be a speaker and presenter of good quality. However, the art requires immense practice and dedication, says David C Linus, founder and trainer, ICSPS.
- Master your topic/subject. Having ample knowledge means half the battle won.
- Practise presentation in front of a mirror and focus on voice modulation, intonation and body language, says Roopali Sundar, Talent Management Head, Avaya.
- If you are using graphic presentation, ensure that the audio-visual logistics are in place. Just in case they fail, can you communicate without them? "Don't get worried", says Dr. Ashutosh Misal,"be prepared keeping all necessary information/data handy."
- If you have erred during your presentation, mentally forgive yourself swiftly, with statements like "That's okay" or "Next time I will be careful", and move on. If you encounter an audience that possess more knowledge than you do, don't flounder or get into a belligerent debate.
- Follow three mantras, says Dr Mishal, trainer and Director, Novel Institute of Management Studies, Pune: Estimate probable questions, don't use bookish tips or imitate anyone for your presentations. Follow the principle of thinking for the worst and doing for the best.