Be mindful how you present

Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 19, we were honoured to chat to Michelle Bowden, Managing Director at Michelle Bowden Enterprises. Michelle coaches business people to present their written and spoken ideas with confidence and clarity. Michelle believes anyone can become an amazing business presenter and communicator, “it’s just a matter of knowing what the best speakers do and then doing it”.

Michelle is a CSP (the highest designation for speakers in the world), Creator of the Persuasion Smart Profile (a world-class psychological assessment that reports on your persuasiveness at work), a best-selling internationally published author with Wiley, and a regular commentator in print, radio, and online media. She’s known as the go-to person for pitch teams looking to win deals in the hundreds of millions.

Want to learn more? You can read or listen to our chat with Michelle on YouTubeSpotifyListen Notes, or Player FM. It’s also available anywhere you listen to your favourite podcasts via Buzzsprout.

Authored By Michelle Bowden, Managing Director at Michelle Bowden Enterprises.

Ever wondered how some people can seamlessly fast-track their way to senior positions over candidates with far more experience? What about people who get up on stage with no signs of nerves or jitters? How do they do it?

In this article, I will teach you how to make an undeniable presentation. I believe everyone has the potential to deliver a truly captivating presentation. They just need to master the skills of being a mindful communicator and commit to doing the preparation

Authenticity unlocks power
A key attribute of persuasive people is authenticity. When you are your authentic self, you are seen as natural and trustworthy. Instead of wasting valuable time and energy trying to be who you think others want you to be, focus on achieving outcomes that resonate with the core of your being. This makes us more engaging to the audience.

When I first started consulting, I had a lot of academic qualifications, but not much vocational experience. I thought I needed to relate to my mostly male audience by branding my business with navy blue and orange, despite my favourite colour being hot pink. I believed navy blue and orange were good corporate colours and that they would make me appear more ‘corporate’ and professional to clients.

One afternoon, inspiration struck. I was sitting on my balcony at home and I found myself admiring these gorgeous, hot pink Dipladenia flowers – the colour really stood out to me! Relishing in the beauty of these flowers made me want to change my branding. I had a gut feeling that I would become very successful if were to do that. Despite people warning that my business would be mistaken for a candy shop brand, I trusted my intuition and made all my business collateral hot pink: workbooks, website, social media, logos, everything! I’m so glad I did this! My revenue tripled that year. I believe I was able to dramatically increase my success because I was “myself amplified”. We are most powerful when we are authentic.

Preparing to present
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is thinking they can go in and “wing it”, with little to no rehearsal or research. This sets us up for public speaking nerves, impeding the confidence with which we can deliver.

Why not maximise the moment and apply the formulas of the world’s greatest speakers? Understanding what your audience needs and delivering your message in the way they want to hear it communicated will help you achieve your desired outcome. It will ensure that you inspire your audience and that they will relate to what you’re saying. You will help those who listen. If someone is reluctant to do the work required for an effective presentation, I always remind them that prior preparation prevents poor performance.

There are three phases to preparing an effective business presentation. They are analysis, design, and delivery. Analysis is about getting super clear on what you want to achieve, what the audience needs to hear, and the action you require your audience to take. Remember, delivering a presentation isn’t exclusively about what we want to say. It’s about what our audience needs to hear and how they want to hear it communicated. Conducting a thorough analysis of our audience’s needs equips us with the basis for developing a persuasive presentation.

The design phase is all about the structure and the words you’re going to say. Why are you presenting this matter? What are the issues that need to be solved? How can changes be implemented? What if the changes don’t work? What are some alternative solutions and projected outcomes? There are many fantastic formulas for structuring your message – both written and spoken.

The delivery phase involves the stand-and-deliver elements of presenting. This includes eye contact, posture, articulation, speech clarity and pace. Delivery is all about how well we interact and engage with the audience.

It’s not enough to simply understand the theory behind these principles. You need to put them into practice. I recommend rehearsing your presentation until you can’t possibly get it wrong. We often sound robotic when we first start practising. If we keep going, we arrive at a sweet spot – my favourite part in the rehearsal stage. When we reach the sweet spot, we no longer sound robotic or scripted. We sound natural and conversational. Our presentation is most powerful when we reach this point.

Learning to embed the principles of effective public speaking into our presentation doesn’t just apply to those who have an upcoming stadium talk. Everyone can benefit from embedding these principles into their daily communication because they give us the power to inspire, influence and create results. Any interaction you have with another person is a presentation, whether it’s sending emails, having conversations, being involved in interviews, or pitching an idea in team meetings or to your multi-million-dollar client. Incorporating these three phases of a persuasive presentation ensures that we deliver more targeted presentations, triggering faster outcomes.

Don’t waste time trying to read the facial expressions of audience members. Our assumptions around this are often inaccurate. In one of my training courses, I noticed a man in the audience who was vigorously nodding and smiling. This gave me the impression he was really engaged. So, I asked him – “What do you think?” He replied, “I don’t know Michelle. I’ve spent so much time nodding and smiling that I haven’t listened to a word you said”. Vigorous nodding is often something someone does to fool you into thinking they’re listening.

Another misconception about audience body language is the idea that someone frowning means they don’t like you or your presentation. This isn’t necessarily the case. It could just be how they look when they’re concentrating. Trying to read the facial expressions of audience members isn’t advantageous in allowing you to deliver an effective presentation. Facial expressions are often not what they seem. If you want to know what your audience is thinking, try asking a targeted question. It’s a better approach to take.

PowerPoint dos and don’ts
In an age of social distancing and remote working, slides are more prevalent than ever. It’s important we master the art of creating effective slide presentations if we want to ensure the best possible outcomes.

Awesome slides reinforce the point you’re communicating to the audience. Be careful not to use your slides as a reminder of what to say. As the presenter, it’s your job to know the content inside-out before delivering.

How many times have you been close to nodding off during a presentation where people read directly from the PowerPoint slides? Exactly. Always avoid reading anything off PowerPoint slides.

Be careful of overloading your audience. Humans can’t read, process, and listen at the same time. If you recite a slide while also expecting the audience to read it, they experience what’s known as cognitive overload. This means that the audience won’t be able to properly digest what you’re saying. It’s also important to note that we read faster than we speak. By the time you’re halfway through reading out the content on your slide, the audience will have already finished reading. Directly reading content from a slide is of no value to anyone.

What’s a better way of structuring PowerPoint presentations?

Let’s say you have seven points on a single PowerPoint slide. Why not use each of the points as a heading across seven slides? Instead of overcrowding the slide with the words you’re speaking, include a relevant illustration, graph, or table to enhance the meaning of your message. Whenever you’re creating a PowerPoint presentation, always ask yourself – “is this the best way to visually represent and reinforce the point I’m making?”

Don’t make your slides too busy. Each slide needs to act as a signpost for the audience to know what’s being said. As a rule of thumb, a slide is too busy if it takes longer than 10 seconds to read. If you need to include a quote on a slide, step back and allow the audience to read it themselves (it only takes a few seconds). Then come back and initiate discussion around the meaning and relevance of the quote in relation to the content you’re presenting – don’t read it out!

I also recommend complementing your presentation with a handout that summarises everything you’ve talked about. It helps people remember the content once the meeting is over.

Words to delete
The words we use carry so much power. That’s why we need to be mindful about the ones we choose

Here are words and phrases I strongly recommend removing for optimal persuasion…

“But.” This word activates the limbic system and forces a fight or flight response. You can bet this word is highly conducive to conflict. When we follow our sentence with “but,” we negate the point that’s just been made. This is particularly problematic if you’re trying to give a compliment. “You’re so wonderful, but….”

“Ahh, hmm, um.” These are filler words. Instead of filler words, try to train yourself to pause and breathe. To break the habit of saying “ahh, hmm and um,” in presentations, stop using them in your private life. Get a loved one to pull you up on it if these words slip out! While it’s not an easy habit to break, it’s one worth abolishing for optimal persuasion.

“Please don’t hesitate to contact me.” In that sentence, people only hear the adverb “hesitate.” If you truly want people to contact you, say “please leave me a message.”

“For those who don’t know me.” Cut straight to it, aim to reduce extra words that aren’t adding value in your presentations. People who know you will nod off and those who don’t know you will be left in unnecessary suspense. Instead, just introduce yourself. “I’m Michelle!”

“Sorry.” When the audience hears the presenter saying “sorry,” they will naturally start looking for mistakes in your presentation. No one wants their audience doing this! It will hinder your persuasiveness.

Removing these words and phrases from our presentation (both spoken and written) helps us deliver our message with punch, passion and results.

Whether you want to inspire a stadium audience, win your next business pitch, or encourage your children to clean up after themselves, be mindful of how you present and ask yourself – how can I communicate to best serve my audience?