Here at Big Bang ERP we ensure that all our new hires receive training on presentation and communications skills. When we began to incorporate this training into our onboarding, we faced two major challenges.
First, we had to find someone that could put together a presentation on presentation skills that was skillfully presented. Putting your audience asleep while lecturing them about how not to put your audience to sleep is, after all, hard on the credibility.
Second, we had to turn a topic like body language into something easily digestible. This is harder than it sounds – it is easy to assume that the basics of human communication are obvious (they are right in front of you, after all) but they are almost so obvious as to be overlooked.
Somewhere along the line someone made the grave error of sending this weighty task in my direction. And so it was upon me to turn overlooked subconscious cues into a compelling presentation, which I now conduct regularly. Reviews are mixed.
Over time, though, this crash-course has been reduced to a few key considerations that anyone in a business setting must do to maintain the illusion that he or she is a completely normal human being.
And so I present to you: The Art of Looking Less Weird.
Whenever I bring this up in a presentation, the response from the audience is always the same. Everyone thinks this doesn’t apply to them. Meanwhile, one intern looks like someone poured him into his chair and another one looks as though she’s about to bolt out the back door.
Business schools like to force students to film themselves presenting because the results are usually unexpected and crushingly embarrassing. It’s a nasty process that yields real dividends.
With that in mind, here are the key things to keep on your radar.
Stand up straight. This should be pretty self-explanatory. Nobody likes poor posture.
Lean in. Leaning in conveys interest. If you are leaning back in your chair, you are presenting the impression that you are disengaged.
Smile. This is often overlooked. While your topic of conversation may be serious (quarterly earnings are down – everybody panic!) people instinctively mirror facial expressions. Smile, and the world smiles with you.
Take your hands out of your pockets. This one kills me. Just stop it.
Slow down! If you practice speaking so slowly that you sound like a crazy person in your own head, you are speaking at a good pace.
Pay Attention to Your Audience
Going into a meeting or a presentation with an agenda you’re excited about is a great idea. Unless, of course, you’re the only person in the room that’s excited.
I’ve seen a lot of meetings go south because the presenter talked for 30 minutes about content completely irrelevant to everyone else in the room.
We’ve also all been in that awkward meeting where a presenter is unable to switch gears and adapt to new information – he simply keeps returning to the deck or the agenda, seemingly oblivious to what’s happening around him.
Know your audience, speak their language, adapt, and above all, LISTEN.
The ability to communicate effectively is, in my humble opinion, made up of two interrelated components. First, is of course necessary to clearly articulate your meaning. But perhaps more importantly, your message has to be conveyed in a way that carries credibility.
Effective communication, then, is above all about trust. Which is why certain words and phrases can poison discussions.
Avoid words of equivocation: “maybe”, “possibly”, “kind of” and the like. Whether you are negotiating a raise, presenting your Q3 strategy, or selling a product, vague language stops the discussion dead in its tracks.
My advice? Do your homework and stick to ‘yes’ and ‘no’.
Keep it Simple, Stupid
Perhaps the most important lesson of all. Why do politicians and CEOs stick to repetitive talking points as soon as the cameras start rolling? Because most listeners or viewers are only going to walk away with 10% of what they say anyway. If they talk for an hour and essentially say the same thing over and over, the message is far more likely to stick.
In the spirit, I should note that if you take nothing else from this little blog, take this: stand up straight and keep it simple!