If you are called on to present soon take a moment to ponder on the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: ‘Waves are inspiring not because they rise and fall, but because each time they fall they never fail to rise again.’

When it comes to presenting our ideas with clarity, confidence and impact many of us know how it feels to fall. Our challenge is to be like the ocean wave and never give up rising.

Having just returned from miles of unspoiled white-sand beaches, sunshine and sea I’ve been thinking about ocean waves a fair bit.

Many of the world’s most beautiful sonnets, powerful stories and tales of love, lessons and loss emanated from our ocean waves.

They are a part of who we are

Watching the rise and fall of the elegant mid-Atlantic Ocean waves has heightened my strong belief that we need to stop just presenting and start making more alluring waves. I don’t mean making a noise just for the sake of it I mean making an impact; making a difference.

If a wave can wear down a rock then mindfully crafted and delivered words can capture the hearts and minds of any audience.

In the same way that the world would be entirely different without waves just imagine how different it would be without some of history’s greatest orators.

How do you make waves when presenting and speaking in public?

Before we jump straight to the wave enhancers its worth looking closely at the wave inhibitors. Wave inhibitors are the presentation elements that stifle impact, ensure mediocrity and ultimately leave most professionals rather do anything else that attend ‘another’ business presentation.

Wave inhibitors

– Presenting someone else’s content.

It’s a challenge the best of us face from time to time; resist the urge to accept it. If you present someone else’s content that you had no part in creating, don’t fully understand and perhaps don’t believe in, you will drown your audience. Before you shout out, ‘yes but’ and explain to me how I don’t understand your boss or the culture you work in I promise you I do. Your job is to either push back and say that you simply won’t do it or insist that you completely rebuild the content in a way that works for you and that you will be passionate about.

If you concede and do it because you ‘have to’ then you are not only doing yourself and your audience a huge disservice it means that the person insisting that you give the presentation has a complete disregard for both you and your audience.

– Doing what you always do

In organisations across the world every day you will find professionals who regularly have to attend the same, weekly, monthly and quarterly presentation forums. You can be certain that in many of these forums you will see:

The same people sitting in exactly the same seats, saying the same things in the same way every time.

Slides saturated with data, bullet points and even spreadsheets.

Professionals reading those slides to fellow professionals.

If you do what you always do and what everyone else does you will get the same result that you and others always get. If those results are outstanding then by all means continue. If they serve purely to maintain the status quo and create a business environment of apathy then it’s time to make waves.

– Making it all about you

It’s human nature for all of us to want to look good, connect with others and be liked; there’s nothing wrong with that.

It only becomes a significant issue when it becomes the essence of our presentation. In other words, where our primary agenda is to show our audience how clever we are, how much we know and how hard we work. When we craft and deliver a presentation which revolves around us rather than our audience, we can guarantee that our audience will remember us but for all of the wrong reasons.

The waves we need to create are ones in which our audience can surf in rather than for us as presenters to parade on.

Wave enhancers

– Find out what kind of fish they are

Please excuse the continued oceanic analogy but would you approach a shark in the same way you would a salmon or a dolphin in the same manner as a dart-fish.

Sadly, for far too many professionals the last thing on their mind is their audience. Your audience aren’t fish of course but you know what I mean.

To create waves, you have to begin think like your audience do.

– Who are these people?

– What do they care about?

– What do they want and need?

If you were sitting in their seats what could it take to get your attention, interest and curiosity that you haven’t already seen or heard a million times before?

Once you’ve done your research and worked hard to achieve some real insight into who your audience truly are:

– Give them everything you have: your energy, passion, focus and creativity.

– Start out with the intention of creating immense value for them and do everything within your gift to deliver nothing but value.

– Set out to change something for them, whether it’s their minds, attitudes, beliefs or understanding. “A presentation that doesn’t seek to make change is a waste of time and energy.” Seth Godin

– Invite them to play

Your audience won’t enjoy, engage or interact with you if you simply talk at them and read slides. They need to go on the journey with you, to surf the wave and experience the ride.

Involve your audience the moment you begin speaking and throughout your presentation.

– Ask them questions

– Challenge their thinking

– Help them to see pictures in your mind

– Give them examples

– Tell them stories

– Dare to ask their opinions

– Be playful and have some fun with them

– Go for the heart…

Don’t forget, whether you are presenting to the CEO or customer service team we all have a heart as well as a brain. Unfortunately, the majority of business presenters focus exclusively on intellectual understanding at the expense of achieving an emotional connection too.

Your audience want the facts, they want the data, research and evidence but they want it delivered in a way that is going to make them feel something emotional too.

– Give your audience emotional as well as intellectual insights as to how you really feel about the topic and why you feel the way you do.

– Keep it real by using humour, compassion and empathy. Forget your business title or position in the company; get them to relate to you as you. Show them your personality not the corporate spokesperson.

– Look for the emotional connections; it could be a shock, surprise, bold fact or statement, an image or a video. It may be a prop or piece of music. Whatever it is make sure that it supports and highlights the significance of the point you are making.

Ocean waves stabilize climate temperatures, increase biodiversity, increase the adaptability and strength of creatures, they even create beaches.

We need waves.

We need them in our business presentations too. The climate of business presenting will decline rapidly and severely without waves as we have already seen over the last decade, so please build them into your next presentation.


Image courtesy of: www.istockphoto.com