Presenting to the boss can turn highly talented, intelligent and creative professionals into nervous, jabbering, sleepless messes — but not if you know the key mistakes to avoid.
The strangest analogy I’ve heard was from a former colleague of mine who, after presenting to the CEO for the very first time, left the office looking rather pale. On asking her how it went, she replied by saying, “Well, I’m not too sure. You see, it started off well; he was smiling, attentive, and very polite, but it felt like I was meeting with my gynecologist in that I would soon be leaving the room feeling a little violated.”
Sometimes, a good way to learn is through knowing the mistakes others have made before you. With that in mind, here are my top 10 presentation tips from both my personal and professional experience.
1. Don’t “sit on the fence”
There really is nothing more annoying than listening to someone drone on and on for 20 minutes, drowning you in data and facts, when it’s perfectly clear that they aren’t committed to the topic in terms of making it clear where they stand on it. Take a position, stand by it, and make it clear which side of the fence you are on.
Don’t sit on the fence. Otherwise, you really will get some seriously painful splinters.
2. Lose the attitude
All day long, your boss deals with people who are trying to look good, impress them, or simply suck up to them in some way. It’s not very attractive, and even though it’s the essence of many business presentations, the really good leaders find it tiresome — they don’t need their egos stroked. What your boss wants from you, more than anything, is to see the real you; so tell it as you see it.
Don’t give the “corporate spokesperson” speech. Let them see the real you; that means losing the jargon too.
3. Skip the small talk
Your boss doesn’t have time for small talk, so make sure you get straight to the point. Don’t be like a comedian and save the punchline for the end. Deliver your key message straight away and do so with impact.
4. Don’t just present
I really don’t know anyone who actually enjoys the process of being presented to. Most people don’t have the time, attention span, or patience to simply sit there listening to someone read bullet-point slides.
Craft a conversation instead. Get them really thinking. Ask them questions. Help them to use their imagination. If appropriate, challenge their perspective — don’t just accept theirs because they are the boss.
5. Surprise them
I can promise you that for every 10 presentations your boss endures in a week, all 10 of them will be very similar to each other in most respects. You have an amazing opportunity to inspire, enlighten, and engage your boss, so please don’t waste it.
Tell them powerful stories, use props or provocative slides, make them curious, make them laugh. In short, be creative, dare to be different, and surprise them in some way.
6. Help them to feel something
Most business presentations are really boring.
Don’t just talk, but try to really connect with them emotionally by asking yourself “what do you want them to feel?”.
7. Don’t make them read
The very last thing your boss wants to do is to read your slides or report while you are talking at them.
It’s not a presentation or conversation if they are forced to read. It’s simply you making them read and they won’t thank you for it.
The spoken word elicits a far greater effect than the written word. It’s your job to breathe life into your report, update, or idea, and you will never achieve that by simply making them read it.
8. Make them look good
It’s human nature for each of us to want to look good and to impress our audience when presenting; that self-imposed pressure is often the greatest cause of anxiety many professionals experience.
When all you can think about is how well you must perform and how much your reputation is at stake, you are making it all about you rather than your audience.
Focus instead on how you can help your boss and how you can make their life, job, department, or company better and stronger.
9. Be playful
Remember when we were small children and we asked our parents if we could go outside to play with our friends? Often, one of the first responses you would hear is “Yes, but play nicely.”
When it comes to presenting, playing nicely doesn’t mean fooling around or making jokes. It just means not taking yourself so seriously, lightening up, relaxing a little, smiling, and having a sense of humor.
Your boss really is human too, so “play nicely” with them.
10. Get out of your head
That doesn’t mean smoking or consuming some mind-altering substance before you present — it means being in the room rather than in your own head.
Many professionals make the mistake of not quietening the noise in their minds before they present to the boss. They enter the room with their minds furiously popping thoughts around like a popcorn maker.
“I hope they don’t ask me a question I can’t answer.”
“I bet I’ll mess this up.”
“I wish I’d done more research on this.”
“What if they don’t agree?”
Staying in your head like this serves no useful purpose to either you or your boss.
Your job is to be completely present in the room as you speak. That’s the only way you will connect with your audience. You can achieve that by simply taking a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing, meditating to calm the noise in your head, and pausing and smiling before you speak.
Have you made any of these or other mistakes that we could all learn from? If so, please feel free to share them in the comments.
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