January 15, 2009

Three Tips for Professional Presentations: Guest post by James Feudo

Many people who can speak confidently in informal situations struggle when speaking in a professional setting. Although speaking in a more formal situation does come with its own set of challenges, the biggest one to overcome is the perception of how high the stakes are in the mind of the speaker. We’re all fine with losing our place during a wedding toast, but mispronouncing a word during a presentation at work can feel like the end of the world.

The good news is that there are a number of things you can do to make your presentation more successful. Here are three easy ways to improve your presentation at work:

Tip 1: If you have to ask, leave it out.

The biggest mistake you can make during a professional presentation is to say something considered inappropriate. Humor is usually the culprit (although stories and opinions can cause trouble as well) as many speakers try too hard to be funny or to get attention. Unfortunately, people try to be edgy because it gets attention. Edgy works for celebrities because many of them would sell their souls to get people talking about them – even if it’s something negative.

The single best piece of advice I can give you in this area is that if you have to ask whether or not something is appropriate to share with your audience, then you’re probably better off leaving it out.

Tip 2: Dress for success.

A common mistake I see in work presentations, especially if the company has a casual dress code, is that presenters don’t dress differently when giving a presentation. The rule of thumb for dressing for a speech is to always dress a notch above your audience - so although you may enjoy wearing shorts and a tee shirt to work every day, you should consider dressing business casual when giving a presentation. This shows your audience that you’re taking your talk seriously and they’re more apt to give you their undivided attention.

Tip 3: Practice, Practice, Practice.

It’s extremely important to practice your presentation beforehand. But how you practice is also important – just reading through your speech several times so you can memorize it isn’t enough. If you truly feel the stakes are high than you absolutely must do the following:
  • Run your speech by someone who has knowledge in the area that you’ll be speaking about. They can often tell you the parts of your speech that are confusing or need more attention.

  • Practice with a mock audience and have them ask questions.

  • If possible, visit the room prior to your presentation so you can adjust your presentation to the room set up.

  • If you’re using overheads or PowerPoint, bring printouts of your slides in the event of an equipment failure.

  • Confirm all arrangements and reservations one to two days before the talk so that you have time to make alternate plans if necessary.

  • If you’ll be using a microphone, practice with one so you’re used to it before you give your speech.

Check out James' blog here, and if you liked this article, subscribe to his e-zine.

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2 comments. Please add yours! :

KareAnderson said...

Great post... and after a decade of speaking
i feel the greatest mistake, (inherently said in this post) is to not connect with your audience.

Stepping into their shoes
(what happened just before you started speaking, what's their biggest hot button/fear
+ their greatest desire/opportunity
and how can you tap into the most intense,
related emotions re above
to lift them up with the practical insight
+ related anchor story or stories
that enable them to handle that situation better.

I am delighted to discover this great blog thanks to your well-known and respected fan Jeremy Jacobs
Now I'll subscribe

Here's to seeing a for-this-moment speech
on the 20th which will do the above, I'll bet
and our country is hungry for an uplifting message in which we can believe and participate.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

Thanks for your insightful comments, Kare. I agree 100% that connecting with your audience should be a speaker's #1 goal.

I learned about you through Jeremy as well. A fortuitous discovery!

I'm anticipating the 20th like crazy!

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