I recently attended a presentation that taught me a valuable lesson in making powerful presentations. At a learning conference I attended, one of the speakers went on stage looking uncomfortable and awkward. I prepared myself for another boring presentation being read from slides and notes. Instead I was blown away! Not because this speaker was professional and slick. On the contrary, it was clear that this speaker never got entirely comfortable being in front of this group; but I came to enjoy his quirky style, natural humour and awkward nature because he spoke so enthusiastically about his topic. He definitely knew his stuff and was excited to tell us about it. He was humble and grateful. Most of all, he was authentic.
After the presentation he shared with me his struggles with performance anxiety. I assured him he had overcome them well, and that he did so by simply being authentic.
If you’re like me, you have experienced a full range of presentations; from presentations that leave you breathless to those that leave you speechless. People I know don’t set out to make a poor presentation. Between deciding what they want to say and actually presenting it, something just gets horribly lost.
One observation I’ve made over my many years of training trainers is, when some people make presentations, they try to become something they are not. They start to speak in ways that they would never speak with a friend or co-worker (formal, structured, stilted). They stand in awkward poses that they would never use anywhere else (arms straight down, legs apart) or make forced, pre-determined gestures. In essence, they lose their authenticity.
I’ll admit, there are some things that all presenters need to do, especially those who know they will be nervous. They include: planning what to say, organizing it well, knowing the audience, telling compelling stories and rehearsing. But when it comes to presentation style, my experience has taught me that it’s more important to be yourself and use your strengths. It may not be the slickest of presentations, but it will probably resonate more strongly with the audience. And, after all, isn’t that what we’re trying to do when we present?
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