Making Good Speakers Great

How to Look Like An Idiot
In Front of Your Boss

When your boss asks you to present to the management team, updating them on the progress of a project, it's an opportunity and a challenge. It's an opportunity to move the project forward, make your boss happy and build recognition and credibility with the leadership of your company. It's a challenge since your effectiveness as a presenter has implications for the project, the reputation of your team and for your future advancement.

Of course you want to do a good job. You value your boss's confidence in your work, and the last thing you want to do is screw it up. But determination and good intentions don't guarantee success. Many innocent speakers have found themselves blindsided when they walk to the front of the room and face their audience. If you wish the ground would open up and swallow you—it won't. Here are some common ways to ruin your presentation and make yourself look like an idiot.

Be unprepared. Many problems faced by presenters can be traced back to a lack of preparation. If you find yourself rambling, you haven't prepared adequately. If there are long, awkward pauses because you lost your place, you haven't prepared. If you go too long, or end up rushing to finish on time, that's a classic sign that you're unprepared. Effective preparation is one of the most overlooked presentation skills. Showing up with inadequate preparation is a surefire way to embarrass your self.

Be reserved. Most presenters don't start strong. Their body language is casual, their voice fails to fill the room, and their introduction is bland. There's no sense of presence to grab and engage the listener. You know you're reserved if you mumble, speak too quietly and/or fail to smile and make eye contact. Effective presentation requires you to be fully engaged and generously available to your listeners. You probably fear being "over the top" but the real danger is you're so "under the top" one's paying attention. Holding back is a surefire way to spoil your presentation.

Rush yourself. If you think speaking fast makes you more interesting, think again. If you feel you can't pause without losing the attention of your listeners, you're setting yourself up for failure. Many presenters are unconsciously rushing themselves. They run out of breath, speak indistinctly, make unnecessary mistakes, panic and lose control of their performance. Learn how it feels to be deliberate. Cultivate the ability to pause. You'll feel in charge of yourself, and your listeners will absorb your material more effectively. Rushing yourself is a surefire way to ruin your performance.

Presentation isn't rocket science, but it does take time and practice. Effective presentations are the result of careful preparation, an ability to engage your self fully and the discipline to stay in control, even under pressure. If you take the floor with a relaxed demeanor, a strong clear voice, and deliver your material fluently, concisely and deliberately, you will engage your listeners and make an impact. You'll earn the respect and appreciation of your colleagues and attract the attention of your senior leaders. Most importantly, you'll look good and feel a deep sense of pride and satisfaction in your work.

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