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By: Kelly Womer, APR, ABC, Fellow PRSA

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Beyond Words: Five Presentation Tips to Connect With Your Audience


In presentations and media interviews, it’s not just what you say that matters, but how well you say and show it. Verbal and non-verbal cues – such as body language, intonation and energy level – all play a role in how leaders may be perceived in terms of their confidence and expertise. In fact, in a study about CEOs giving initial public offering road-show presentations, investors seemed to judge the leader’s competence and trustworthiness in as little as 30 seconds based on their presence. That doesn’t leave much time for making a positive first impression.

Whether you’re conducting media interviews, all-staff meetings, analyst calls or industry conference sessions, it’s important to focus on content and delivery. During executive presentation or media coaching sessions, our trainers at Linhart PR often get asked about how to show the right level of energy, presence and poise. It’s all about balance and practice, while staying true to yourself.

Here are five considerations for your next public speaking opportunity whether with one person or in front of a crowded room:

Be authentically deliberate. Some people are already very enthusiastic and confident, while most of us need to think about increasing our energy. Either way, in public speaking situations, you have to be authentic and be yourself, even if you also need to be deliberate about either amplifying or balancing your energy. This doesn’t feel comfortable or come naturally to many. You need to match your voice, tone, gestures and presence to be appropriate to the audience, topic and room size. It takes a conscious effort. Whatever you think is sufficient energy – you may need to reach one or two rungs higher or turn up the dial a bit more. For those who are already energetic and speak loudly, gauge if you need to rein in your presence to avoid overwhelming the audience or overshadowing the topic.

Hit the record button. The best way to assess your energy level and presence is by videotaping your practice session and playing it back to see how you come across to others. Ask a colleague to watch it with you to also get his or her perspective. We may think we have sufficient energy until we actually see on the video playback what the audience experiences. Presenters need to connect and engage with their audiences, and energy level is a big part of that. If you don’t appear to be confident or energized about your message – the audience won’t be either. Videotaping allows you to put yourself in your audience’s seat and make positive adjustments before the actual presentation.

Pace yourself. When you’re nervous, you tend to talk faster and that may harm your credibility and the audience’s ability to grasp your content. A recent Harvard Business Review article mentioned a TED talk speaker who offers the presentation delivery advice to imagine you’re talking to a friend over dinner in a restaurant. It’s a pace to consider following – natural, authentic and conversational.

Express yourself. Hand gestures and other body language can be done in meaningful ways that complement your message. If you have three points to make, hod up three fingers. If you’re discussing a big change, you might expand your arms. If you want to demonstrate confidence and better connect with the audience, step away from the podium. Too many gestures or being too animated can be distracting, so again it’s all about balance. This is also something to review during a videotaped practice session.

Practice, practice, practice. Preparation and practice play a critical role in the success of any presentation or important discussion. Energy comes from confidence – and confidence comes from preparation, practice and knowing you’re an expert on the topic. We recommend rehearsing out loud at least five times. If possible, practice in front of someone or a small group to better simulate the actual presentation or speaking opportunity.

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