You may think that giving presentations is something that happens in a big corporate, but not in your start-up or small business. Not true!
We’re all giving mini-presentations and pitches several times a day, and getting your message across in a digital world where everyone is mildly ADHD is more vital for business success than ever.
Whether you’re speaking with a potential customer over the phone or pitching your start up idea to investors, you have a choice between doing it in a forgettable way – like elevator music – or making it rock!
If you want your message to be remembered, then just recall how a well-crafted three-minute song stays in your mind forever. So to let’s pick apart the techniques that songwriters use to achieve this effect and look at how we can apply them to make our presentations rock!
Make them care!
Firstly, what are your compelling ‘opening bars’, a riff that catches the listener’s attention?
In pitching or presenting a business idea, it has to be something about them, not about you. The brain has an immediate response to new data – ‘do I care!?’ Ramble on about how wonderful your new product or service is, and they will quickly lose the will to live!
One practical tip is to get the essence of what you want to communicate into a tweet-size statement. 140 characters is enough to capture most concepts: make sure it’s one that will make them care, and get it into the first part of your message.
People remember first and last things – the DNA of what you want to say has to be in your opening words.
How you begin will set the tone for both you and the listener. So if you are giving a talk at a local business meeting, or to a prospective buyer, do rehearse the first three minutes.
I often practice this in the car (where no one can hear you scream); or you might try it out loud in front of a mirror.
In music, the audience is often touched by an unplugged performance. Similarly you can have more impact by ditching your Powerpoint and brochures, instead sitting down and having a conversation.
When you get physically closer to others – breaking the invisible ‘fourth wall’ between you and the listener – you can more easily create a dialogue rather than a forced monologue where you are pushing ideas at others.
Think acoustic, not electric. An animated discussion with others improves your chances of making a good impact.
Naturally what really touches the audience is your own passion for your theme.
While it’s ok to be self-effacing – nobody likes a show off – don’t be ‘self-erasing.’ That means don’t apologise, and practice hard letting your enthusiasm rip.
Of course it doesn’t help just to say in a flat voice that you are ‘very passionate about data warehousing solutions’: you have to show it!
You can learn this by thinking of yourself as a ‘protest singer’; in other words, don’t hold back on expressing what you most love in life and business, what you would most like to change, and what you intensely believe your new ideas can contribute.
To present with passion, you need to be present. You are the star, not your slides, and you will draw people to you if you think of it as a performance.
Maintain eye contact with one person as you make your points, be more like Elvis than Bing Crosby with your body, and make your gestures more Italian than English.
If you’re on the phone, this is a presentation or pitch too, so try walking around energetically, using your hands like you’re on stage – this improves the chance of your words striking home.
Press the pause button
You can tell a nervous speaker – they talk too fast and tend to gabble their words. Just pausing, collecting yourself, and re-engaging through eye contact with your audience maintains their focus and helps your message to go in.
Think of the situation where someone is leaving their phone number on your answerphone. They know it, so they speak at 90 miles an hour.
Do the opposite when you speak – take it in manageable chunks and pause often – and people will actually remember and be able to process what you say.
Never ask, ‘Do you have any questions?’ – you’ll probably be confronted by stunned silence. But if you ask, ‘What questions do you have?’ and then sit down to give the audience time to collect their thoughts, you’ll have lots.
People will remember the first and last things of your pitch more than anything else. If you conclude with a Q & A, the energy could fizzle away.
The ‘rock’ approach is to have a strong climax to your talk. Perhaps your initial message repeated in a fresh way, an idea you would like them to remember even if they forget everything else you said, or a call-back to your strong initial statement.
This is true whether you’ve been speaking for 45 minutes or 10. There is always a sag of attention in the middle, so you want your opening notes and climax to contain the essential points you’re trying to drive home.
Finally, it will help your confidence as a speaker to be more relaxed. Taking deep breaths on stage doesn’t work – it’s too late by then!
I have practised a very simple, effective and scientifically well-researched form of meditation, Transcendental Meditation (TM) – 20 minutes, twice a day, for decades. Learn from an official teacher and you’ll find it’s hard to be phased when you speak in front of others.
Remember: you are not your slides or your content. Above all, people want to know about you and your passion for what you are saying. Don’t let it be dull muzak – rock it up a bit and they will love it.
About the author
This guide has been written for ByteStart by Nigel Barlow. Nigel is a professional speaker to many of the world’s leading companies and also coaches business and professional speakers. His new book, ‘Rock Your Presentation – A new guide to speaking with passion’ (Little, Brown UK) was published on 28th April. You can contact him at www.nigelbarlow.com.
More help on perfecting pitches and presentations
You can find lots more tips to help you deliver winning pitches and presentations in these other ByteStart guides;
- How to avoid death by PowerPoint – 9 Practical tips to captivate an audience with your presentation
- Perfecting your pitch: 10 Principles for entrepreneurs
- Harness the “Power of Three” to nail your pitch
- How to deliver a successful business pitch
- Using the power of your body language to deliver show-stopping speeches and presentations
- Guide to writing a winning business proposal
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