stage presence

A fact of corporate life is that presentations are extremely important. A popular myth of corporate life is that leaders are inherently endowed with presentation skills. And yet, nothing could be further from the truth!

Even seasoned leaders struggle with presentation anxiety. They may attempt to conceal their apprehension through false bravado but the underlying fear is there.
The absolute finest presenters, in our experience, have faced these fears courageously. This is not an overstatement when you understand that courage is the ability to do something that frightens you, or as Ernest Hemingway aptly defined it, “courage is grace under pressure.”

Presentations, as some experts say, are pressure cookers – a highly stressful situation. The first step to overcoming presentation anxiety is accepting that it’s normal. Actors admit to stage fright – a fear of forgetting their lines, turning out a less than stellar performance, of letting down their peers, directors and even fans.

For corporate presenters, the actual physical act of presenting is complicated on a different level than that of the actor. The content will be scrutinized and evaluated – in the moment. In other words, the presenter is effectively “on trial” to convince and make the point efficiently.

A very unique component of successful presentations

For many new professionals, a full-scale presentation with slides and handouts is as daunting as a ski-jumping competition, an unimaginable event for a novice. The most immediate solution would seem to be preparation and practice to build courage. Yes, both are absolutely essential but there is one very unique component that has nothing in common with “performance arts.”

The Pyramid Principle

Decades ago, Harvard MBA Barbara Minto came up with a clear and simple strategy to structure presentations that she called the Pyramid Principle. In a nutshell, its premise is to begin at the end!

Given the presentation-fatigued mindset of many business professionals, weary of lackluster speeches and PowerPoints, the opening must start the momentum rolling. Grasping the audience’s attention in the first few minutes is crucial.

State the conclusion first

Get straight to the point. Tell the audience precisely what they are about to hear. Whether it’s an idea, proposition, proposal or claim, the end is the beginning. Call it the bottom line, key takeaway or crux of the issue, this is what the audience wants to know. Presentations are not the place for twists, turns and surprise endings.

A strong start both informs an audience about the subject matter and establishes authority. This sends a clear signal the speaker is on point and not a time-waster – particularly important when addressing seasoned executives. The goal is to “win” the audience right out of the starting gate.

There may be no greater opportunity to demonstrate Executive Presence than when making a presentation. Today, it’s critical to be able to persuade, to convince, to win people over – and all require powerful communication skills.

The good news is that compelling presenters are not born, but made. Like every component of Executive Presence training, standing out when you speak is a “learned” skill.

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