Why Good Presentation Skills Matter
In a world buzzing with online communication tools, we still need to know how to properly use our voices when we have the opportunity to speak before a group of people. For those who work in a small business, the way your team members present themselves can be your secret weapon for success. Many are scared to get up and speak, or they simply “wing it”, and thus they leave these opportunities behind.
There are many times when the business owner, or someone from the company, is asked to present at a conference or to be part of an expert panel. This can take place at an industry conference or a local chamber of commerce luncheon (or many other types of business events). The chance to highlight your organization in front of peers, clients, prospects and other referral sources in your business community can often have more direct impact than any other type of public relations activities. A blah presentation is not only a wasted opportunity, but it can do more harm than good. Those who speak well have their perceptions elevated… and the reverse is also true. If the person speaking is not committed to creating a powerful preparation, then why present at all?
“If you want to speak well in any situation, you need to be able to present yourself with confidence. Sounds easy, but it takes time to cultivate”, says Jill Schiefelbein, communications consultant and owner of Impromptu Guru. Being nervous is natural for people at any level of experience, but the more you speak, the better you will become.
Strategic management expert, Robert Bradford adds, “All business is about storytelling. Your brand is really just a great story. Tell that story well, and your brand will hold value for people inside your organization and out.” Small business owners and employees who communicate well get much better support for their strategic goals and objectives from co-workers, customers and vendors.
Here’s how to get some hands-on experience and hone your presentation skills:
- Join a Toastmasters club and participate regularly for a minimum of two years. This is a great way to improve your speaking skills and to overcome any fears you may have of public speaking. Those who are active in Toastmasters learn more effective ways to communicate that can help their company and their own career. There are more than 144,000 Toastmasters Clubs in 122 countries, so there are likely clubs that meet close to your home or office. Most convene weekly for about 90 minutes, and there are breakfast, lunch and dinner clubs. Members learn from delivering short talks, and being positively evaluated by peers, but they also learn from watching and evaluating others. If your company has enough people you can start an internal Toastmasters Club, or individuals can join existing clubs in your community. The key is for the company leaders to be actively committed to growing their own skills. If the executives do not care about their own abilities, nobody else on the team will take it seriously either.
- Speak often in your community and at industry conferences. The more you present, the more you will master the skills. After each talk, invest some time in examining how well you connected with the audience. Think about the combination of your content and style. Reviewing a video recording is the best way to examine your use of verbal and non-verbal communication. Better presentations skills cannot be honed by reading a book. Too many business executives falsely assume they are good speakers and “wing it” on the rare occasions they speak. This does not lead to improving their abilities for the next time. Similar to how a Toastmasters Club will give you hands on experience, presenting often before larger audiences and reviewing your performance will jump start your communication style.
- Ask for feedback. We live in a polite society, thus audience members will rarely tell a speaker about how they can improve. Too often if they say anything a comment such as “nice speech” or “thank you for your presentation” is all they will provide. Receiving limited and only positive feedback leads to speakers assuming they are doing great every time. To get honest reviews you need to have colleagues in the audience who will objectively review your content and delivery style. Ask them to pay attention to all aspects of your presentation and be open to their observations. Most importantly, do not become defensive. Constructive feedback will allow you to become aware of what others are seeing and hearing when you present.
It takes years of experience to properly master the skills of presenting, and each speech requires hours of preparation to ensure you are delivering the right value to your audience. However, when you truly connect with an audience and inspire them with your words, it forever positions you as an expert to all who participated in your presentation.