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How to present with impact and influence

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We all face challenges in the workplace, whether it involves influencing senior stakeholders, asking for more budget or negotiating a pay rise. For many people, presenting and pitching can be one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.  We all want to be able to present with an impact and have the ability to influence others easily, but how can we achieve this?

I recently attended an event hosted by PM Forum on 'Impact and Influence in the Workplace'.  It was presented by Stephanie Hughes, a Communications and Presentations Consultant who has spent the past decade chairing and facilitating meetings. Stephanie is an extremely seasoned presenter, having spent 18 years as a BBC broadcaster on national radio and television and now works with FTSE 100 CEOs. During the session, Stephanie outlined some key insights into how we can all improve our impact and influence when presenting.

Stephanie explained that people with the most impact and influence tend to have certain foundations in place that enable them to do so, but they also have flexibility and can adapt to changing situations. 

Perception vs. reality

When it comes to presenting, for most people, there’s a perception gap between what you think you’re doing and what other people perceive you doing. This especially applies if you are under pressure.  

Filming yourself making an important speech, pitch or presentation is a brilliant tool to help address this gap as it allows you to see exactly what others see.

When you watch yourself back, Stephanie suggests splitting the signals.  First watch yourself with no sound, then listen to yourself but don’t look.

5 questions to ask yourself about what you see/hear on film:

1. What am I doing well?

Many people are extremely critical of how they look/act/sound when they first see themselves on film. Focus instead on the positives.

2. How close am I getting to my ideas?

What 3 adjectives would you like people to say about you after watching your presentation i.e. confident, persuasive, knowledgeable, approachable, authentic?  How close are you getting to these adjectives?

3. Is my style too formal or too familiar?

You will need to adapt your style to suit the situation and the audience.

4. Is anything getting in the way?

You want people to primarily focus on the content of your pitch.  Is anything distracting people from the content? Are you too loud/too quiet? Are you fidgeting or standing rigidly still?

It is really important when presenting to know your content inside out.  If you don't know your content well, your eyes will dart all over the place as you search for information in the brain. This can be particularly distracting when someone is speaking to a camera.

5. How does my face/voice make others feel?

Mirror neurons help us mimic actions and emotions. What emotions do your actions and behaviours incite in others?

Twokey principles that contribute to successful presenting and pitching:

1. Focus of attention

Having an external focus of attention can greatly improve your performance when presenting.

In order to achieve this, you have to be completely present and focus your attention outwards i.e. on the people you are speaking to.

If you focus your attention inwards, you will start to have internal conversations with yourself and this can cause you to lose your train of thought and feel increasingly stressed.

2. Energy

A Harvard Business School Study concluded that successful people have energy. However, getting the balance right is important.

Having too much energy

Looks: over the top   Feels: uncomfortable     Makes people think: you're not credible

Having too little energy

Looks: Cold/distant     Feels: Boring      Makes people think: you're not relevant

You should aim to have enough energy which gives the audience the impression that:
“I don’t want to be anywhere else, talking to anyone else about anything else.”

Using your hands when presenting also gives you energy.

Things that can deplete energy

1. Dealing with a difficult audience

When presenting, we can gain or lose energy depending on the audience’s reaction. 

Audience proofing is a good way to train yourself or your fee earner to deal with this especially if you are preparing for an important pitch or presentation.

When practicing your speech, ask the audience to maintain a blank expression and show no emotion or encouragement. This will be distracting and off-putting at first, but with practice, it will help you prepare for a difficult audience.

2. Being unclear about purpose

To define the purpose of your presentation, ask yourself these 2 key questions:

1. What is the audience thinking/feeling/doing about this at the moment?
2. What do I want them to be thinking/feeling/doing by the time I finish?

Think about the effect your words can have on others.  Do you want to inform? Convince? Entertain? Humiliate? Inspire? Challenge?

3. Feeling stressed or nervous

One of the best tools in the public speaking circuit to help calm nerves is power breathing – make the out-breath longer than the in-breath.

Power-posing for 2 minutes beforehand can also help you feel more confident (Amy Cuddy has done a great TED talk on this).

4. Using poor content

No matter how good the delivery, it won’t make up for poor quality content. Always prepare thoroughly and know your content inside out.

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