06 April 2018 by Hugh Vivian
Three simple steps to develop your presenting skills
Last week, I watched my 11-year-old daughter in a performance of Twelfth Night at her school. On the way home in the car, my family were talking about the impact that each of the children had when acting their various parts.
Naturally, talk turned to who we thought were the best performers and who we reckoned were left wanting. The conversation centred around observations. One actor spoke too quickly. Another spoke too quietly. And one looked terrified, her face completely frozen.
The conclusion was that the actors’ verbal and non-verbal delivery were the characteristics on which we based our conclusions about the calibre of their performance.
This conversation reminded me how each of us possess a strong and innate ability to observe the behaviours of others. In the workplace, our colleagues, bosses and clients have this same propensity to rapidly observe and judge other peoples’ behaviour – in itself a kind of performance.
That in mind, I would like to recommend the ABC of personal impact as a way you can review and manage the signals that you are sending out more effectively.
It starts with being aware. When you present or talk to others at work, it is hard to be aware of how you come across, and specifically what verbal and non-verbal signals you are sending out.
It is not easy to gauge your impact – you cannot see or hear yourself. It is much easier to observe the signals that other people are sending out.
“What you are saying will make sense if you relay relevant information in an orderly and intuitive manner”
But though it is tricky to self-observe, it is not impossible. Next time you are presenting or talking at a team meeting, try to consider the pace and volume of your voice, and be more aware of your posture – as your schoolteacher would say, sit up straight.
Also note what you are doing with your hands. Each time you do this, you are becoming more aware of the signals that you are sending out.
Once you are aware of your behaviour you have a chance to tweak it to make yourself more persuasive. The main elements of our behaviour are what you are saying, how you are saying it (verbal communication), and what your body is doing while you present or talk (non-verbal communication).
In the Twelfth Night performance, what each actor said was straightforwardly written in the script.
Likewise, when you talk with a colleague or present your view, what you are saying will make sense if you relay relevant information in an orderly and intuitive manner. In the above list, the first point has been ‘ticked’.
Setting the message’s content aside, this leaves us with verbal and non-verbal expression.
Most of us speak a tad too fast. We do this for a number of reasons, including the fact that everyone is short of time. You want to get across your point without wasting any – or before your audience becomes distracted.
Our brains think faster than we speak and often we make the mistake of trying to speed up our delivery in a desperate attempt to catch our train of thought.
The solution to this is to consciously try to speak more slowly, which will stop you tripping over yourself. It is not strictly for your benefit, but for your audience, who will more easily follow you.
In addition, good verbal delivery can be affected by the presenter speaking too quietly. The speaker might be timid, or they may not want to sound aggressive or authoritarian.
We all loathe bullies and aggressive people and do not want to display a characteristic always demonstrated by those types – a loud, forceful voice.
You should also remember that your mouth is much closer to your ears than the audience’s. Obviously, you are the person who can hear yourself most clearly. We sometimes forget that in order for other people to hear what we are saying, we will need to project our voice to the back of the room.
We should ignore some intuitions about our speech. When speaking a bit louder and projecting better, you may initially be convinced that you are shouting, but your audience will be able to hear you more clearly.
When we are talking to a group, the body has an extraordinary ability to move in odd ways without us noticing.
These random movements include non-stop flapping of arms, looking anywhere but at the audience, holding dreadful postures or doing an on-the-spot jig. These moves are off-putting for the audience and distract from what you are saying.
“Standing or sitting tall is preferable to looking like a sack of unprofessional potatoes”
Being aware of your body language is the first step. Try to look out more critically for these movements while presenting. The second step is to moderate them.
Gesticulate with your hands and then find a ‘rest position’ for them – hands held in front of your body, behind your back, even by your sides – before you start to gesture again.
Look at your audience for about two seconds per person in a random scan; anything less than two seconds looks shifty and anything more unsettling. Do not look over their heads – that just looks odd.
Standing or sitting tall is preferable to looking like a sack of unprofessional potatoes. And if you move about, move with purpose – and then stop. If you are worried about your legs shaking, bend them a bit, which helps to settle them.
The final part is the hardest of the ABC. So far, we have focused on theory and knowledge, or what you know you should be doing. ‘Commitment’ is all about putting your knowledge into action.
This is easier said than done, because we are creatures of habit. We usually do not like doing new things that make us feel uncomfortable. To return to a previous point, we know that we should speak up and enunciate better, but when we try that our inner voice panics and asks why we are shouting.
Your voice says: ‘If you do not stop, you will embarrass yourself.’ The result is that even though you know the theory, you do not put it into action. However, the good news is that you can quieten your inner voice and break the habits of old.
The key to this is to check your behaviour through someone else. My advice is to ask a trusted colleague, having briefed them beforehand, to give you feedback after the next team meeting on any discernible difference in your presenting.
I am confident that their feedback will include two points. First, that when you spoke up and at a slower pace, you sounded more confident and professional. Second, the volume that you perceived as being too loud, was not picked up by anyone else.
Equally, if you ask for their feedback on your modified body language, do not be surprised when they talk about the impact and the conviction with which you were presenting.
To boost your impact when speaking with colleagues or presenting, be aware of how you are currently coming across and look at your behaviour.
Consider projecting your voice, slowing your delivery speed, managing your hand flurries with rests, scanning with your eyes, standing straight and stopping your dance steps – and commit to implementing these small changes into your working day.
Although it may be uncomfortable initially, the benefits will outweigh the discomfort when you realise how much more persuasive you are to others and notice how much more of an impact you are having in your workplace.