Never underestimate the art of storytelling. The ability to captivate an audience, hold their attention, make an impact – it really is as hard as it sounds. Humans are social creatures by nature. Most of us are born with the ability to relate to others, to communicate our thoughts, make our friends laugh, evoke emotion when recalling a memory. But what about doing this in front of a large group? Not so easy, right?
I love the business that I’m in, and I’m good at it too. Not to brag, but I’m pretty sure I know my stuff! Unfortunately when it came time to “sell myself” to a client, a sea of corporate faces staring back at me made me completely tongue-tied. I don’t just mean a little nervous — I’m talking in a panic, flushed, butterflies in my stomach, you name it. Sometimes I’d speak too quietly, stumble or forget my lines. Other times I’d get really in the weeds on details; rambling on for too long about technical stuff that no one cared much about. Ok I wasn’t horrible, but I certainly wasn’t good either.
Captivating an audience is something I’d always wished I could do. I was jealous of others who could do it so seamlessly. I still am. Not everyone is born with this innate ability to tell a great story. For most of us, it comes learned. I had to learn it just recently through a few one-on-one training sessions. Here are my key takeaways from the pros that can be put to practical use when presenting to a group:
- Exude Confidence
Be direct, make eye contact and remember to breathe. Sounds pretty basic, but a lot harder to do in practice. Don’t stare at your slides on the screen that you spent all week working on, or at the notes in front of you. They are there for quick reference, not to be a crutch. Nothing says ‘I’m a not worth your time’ like someone who won’t look you in the eye and speak to you frankly. When you present, you are likely asking a CEO, CMO or another C-level person to trust in you and invest in you. If you don’t exude confidence then they won’t have confidence in you.
- Remember that you have Equal Value
This is an offshoot of being confident, but takes it a step further. How do you cultivate a dynamic of equal value? It can be nerve-wracking when the stakes are high. So lower them. The world won’t fall apart if you stumble. Remember that you are presenting because you’re an expert on the subject matter. The CEO has a million other things to worry about on a daily basis and your piece of the marketing pie is just that – a piece. Tell them enough to pique their interest and leave them wanting more. Let them ask questions that you can provide thoughtful answers to. Now you have a real conversation going!
- Speak to the highest person in the room
This is a tricky matter that often goes unaddressed. Let’s say you have a mixed bag of people in the room. Some know your subject matter – for example Digital advertising – very intimately. These people can ask you the hard-hitting questions. Others, not so much. Maybe this is still new to them and their knowledge is limited. Again, if the CEO doesn’t know all that much (nor does she care) about programmatic buying, the use of pixels for data collection, and so on, it’s probably best to save those things for a private discussion with the analytics junkies and other digital geeks. All the CEO cares about is her bottom line – where should I invest my money and will it drive a positive ROI for my business? Stick to the basics and if someone wants to go into the weeds, there’s always time for that later. That brings me to my next point …
- Less is more when it comes to Content
The KISS tenet is still around because it works. There’s just not enough room for everything you want to say in your PowerPoint – it will only take the attention away from you if your audience is trying to read while you are speaking. It can easily result in you trying to cover too much in a short a time and getting sidetracked by all those words on a slide. The last thing your audience wants is for you to read to them. Keep the content in your presentation to a minimum and have visuals you can speak to. It will be more interesting and meaningful. Consider providing handouts for after your presentation; these can delve more into the details and help answer any questions.
- Be Authentic
This is my last key takeaway and it’s the most important one. If you remember nothing else but this, you can still be a killer presenter. The secret of any good presenter is to tell a story and the art of a great storyteller relies on authenticity. If you come across as rehearsed and stiff, your audience will see it and they will lose interest. Even if the content you’re presenting is dry, a great storyteller can make it interesting. To say be yourself sounds so cliché, so I’ll just say be the best, most genuine version of yourself you can be when speaking to a room full of people. And give yourself some credit! If those around you didn’t have confidence in you – you wouldn’t have made it into the room at all.