Thursday, October 1, 2009

Signs of Authority: An important Presentation Trait

I have seen number of presentation from junior to senior management teams. In many of them, which obviously have improved better in terms of slide quality with 2007 and lot of intelligence shared in web, the delivery mechanism has always not excited me. When I see TED Talks and compare my own experience as presenter and audience, I realize that authority and command generate and shape the presentation than slides themselves. Few areas that I find useful to concentrate during a presentation are:

1. The sign of authority on subject: When you know what is on slide, you would present a take on the slide and not read the same. You would avoid phrases like "What this slide means is...", "We have put this slide to tell that ....", "As this slide states..." etc.

Instead the audience should be able to scan the slide, make their impression and wait for you, the presenter to elucidate it further. That enables you, the presenter to have a meaning on the stage along with the presentation.

2. Command over flow and language: My dad used to say this in my child hood, that this is the most critical skills you need. Indeed he was a professor who could lecture without a break for an hour on a chosen subject. Of course, in that age I got to neither oppose nor follow.

But this is a take from politician and film speeches. They never falter. Some demand silence when they speak. They pause long enough for accolades, over powering the audience. Some intersperse with questions, for people to answer it and answer the same in their voice. This affirms their status and get more buy-in. In some presentations which are extempore in nature, the flow is so structured and still so malleable depending on the audience interest.

So some points to remember are: no hums ("uh", "umm"), no stammer pauses (like "so so", "like"), no generic, wayward phrases (like "that thing", "you know what i mean", etc).

The sign of authority on the subject is realized by the audience only in the ability to make an easy flow and flawless language.

3. Control over TIME: In some of the presentations, I have been told that if audience can stay longer than fixed time, it is a sign of attention, attraction and success. It is easier to accept this as a fact, as this line of argument too make some sense.

But counter intuition also seems to have a good argument. People who tend to stay longer, either are polite enough to let you hang around or have made their decision much earlier and hence are tuned off or have got nothing to do with the presentation and it was just an experience for them. It is like we do not antagonize a friend when we don't bother or are in a mood to pay attention any longer. We do not care for switch off point as the time limit has exceeded the attention span.

Control over time, has always been a critical skill to provide audience with a pleasure of utilizing their time craftily. This keeps them on their edge, since they know there would be something missed if they are not around at that time.

The authority that you mean business and exactly know what you are talking about gives the sign of authority, a respect and perception frame of reference.

4. Contribution: Instead of measuring audience attention, attraction through the time they spend on the session, it is good to measure the involvement through contribution. Contributory audience is a rare form of group that you could ever get. Better still, you have a couple of people who can chime with you on questions, topics, supportive statement, the better the session jives in the presentation. I make it a point to always take a supportive person alongside, to one de-risk any stage frights, I might get and to enable a tango experience that provides a relief to the audience.

Believing in user intelligence and generating user contribution in a live session, is the highest form of love and respect that a presenter can command from the audience.

5. Analogies, Stories and Queries: Let it be a good strategy presentation or a presentation of a case which is not in a good time or shape. Analogies, Stories enable the presentation better.

A few months back, I was on verge of a breakdown. Sales front was down, repeat orders were drying up and projects were coming to an end. Recession was felt all around. To keep head high required lot of inherent motivation.

In this time, my senior management wanted to know what is happening. It would have been easy to provide the facts as bullets, prepare for the worst and await their decision. The other alternative, that I chose with my bosses advice was to present a story on where we see windows of opportunity flowing in. In the last part of slides the facts came out that we are caught in storm. But the initial analogies and stories of positive turnarounds in other areas, our helplessness yet the efforts we are putting in with all our abilities helped present the case without a hard blow.

In the last review this month, my senior manager told my immediate bosses that this could be used as a case study on how to keep track of a service and ensure a fast turnaround. The slides used to present had a marked story to speak about themselves.

Not only in such instances, I have found a presentation with careful, meaningful and relevant analogy and story helps get the attention, attraction and more importantly the message across. Having a follow up call provides the stickiness factor that we all strive to attain in every engagement.

Would love your comments on more traits that you would like to contribute to help me stand up for the next presentation as a better presenter ?

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