As we start a New Year in business, many company directors and CEOs will be planning their diaries and looking to prepare for forthcoming speeches and presentations. This will include positive words of encouragement for employees and clients alike.
Some bosses will choose to dust off previous materials; others will go down the informal route and make it up on the day. Unfortunately, too few will give their speech the time and preparation required, missing the opportunity to make a positive and motivating impact on their teams and customers .
Having worked for over ten years with management teams helping to improve their presentation performance, I firmly believe that everyone has the capacity to be good. With some insight and practice we can all move from being an average presenter to a really polished, impressive communicator.
It is well accepted that speaking in a room full of people can be a nerve racking experience but the key is to act naturally and be yourself. It really doesn’t have to be that daunting, as long as you have a toolkit to help you through it, everyone can communicate with impact and influence.
Many managers like to work under pressure, but when writing a speech it is preferable not to leave it to the last minute to put pen to paper. My advice is to write a speech the night before, the more preparation you do the better, because it takes the pressure of you on the big day. Speak to colleagues about what to include or even carry a notepad in the weeks before to jot down ideas for any ‘eureka’ moments.
Also remember the aim of a speech is not only to get your points across but also your personality. Everyone is different with their own individual style of communicating. It is really important that when making a presentation, you come across as yourself. I recommend writing a speech in the style in which you would normally speak.
There are many things people do unconsciously in everyday conversation, such as pausing to think, or pausing to let the listener think about what is being said. This happens naturally because the person speaking waits to get feedback from listeners, with a nod or yes, before carrying on to the next point.
However, in a more formal environment, where there are several people in the audience, the speaker is less likely to get these signals and it’s easy, without such feedback, to start wondering whether people are following or if their attention is wandering.
This can be disconcerting for the speaker, as they feel they are facing a blank wall which adds pressure, adrenalin kicks in and they speed up. But by speeding up, the ideas will be delivered too quickly and the listeners won’t have time to keep up, which usually means the audience lose track and switches off. I encourage the use of silence, pause between ideas as this gives the audience time to digest what is said, and it also shows the speaker is in control.
Another critical factor is the structure of what’s being said and how to deliver it. Again, using a conversational approach is key. Think about what happens when talking to people in everyday relaxed conversation – because conversation works for most of us. By including metaphors, similes and analogies a presentation can be made more engaging and, more importantly, help people remember what’s said. These are tools we use every day in conversation when talking to colleagues and clients, so use them in presentations too.
In terms of using notes or a script, having prompts that support you through the process is a good idea. Prepare notes, stick to them and you will be clear, concise and come across as being well organised and credible.
By following these simple rules and using a conversational style, the business presentation or pitch can make an impact every time.
Maryanne Johnston has been advising clients on their critical communications for 9 years. She began her career working for a consultancy specialising in spoken communication in London then moved to Edinburgh to set up her own firm in 2004.
The firm has gone from strength to strength building up a variety of clients from different sectors of business across the UK and in France.
She has a dual degree, BA (Hons) International Business with French and Italian from the University of Northumbria and BSc International Business from EAI Tech in France.