Thursday, September 15, 2011

fake it till you make it

I have previously mentioned that I have occasion to review the presentations of younger engineers. It can be very time consuming, but I actually enjoy the process since it has the satisfying feeling of helping someone improve his or her self. In this case, working on their presentation skills.

One of the most basic pieces of feedback I try to provide is that presenters need to project and express energy and enthusiasm. I have touched on the idea of being enthusiastic before but I saw another presentation yesterday that needed a strong dose of enthusiasm. It is very typical for first-time presenters to come out a bit flat and mechanical sounding. Their nerves often get the best of them and they go a bit fast and are not able to put emphasis on their key points. However, this guy yesterday sounded downright despondent at one point during hsi presentation when mentioning some training he had attended that related to his project. The line, "I attended the XYZ training" sounded like it came from the lips of a man who had just been told that his dog, the loyal companion of many years, had been hit by a truck. I had never before heard such a melancholy line during a business presentation.

New presenters also struggle needlessly with their presentation aids, usually PowerPoint, instead of focusing on the presentation's main event, which is themselves. There's the saying that a good actor can salvage a bad script or bad dialogue. (No? Well, a lot of others say something like that.) The corollary is that a bad actor can tank good dialogue. The same is true for presentations. For example, the guy from yesterday definitely had some work to do on his slides, but I told him that he could not change a single slide and still make it an effective presentation. Conversely, his slides could be perfect, but that would do nothing for his ability to project himself across the room and keep the audience's attention.

The weakness from yesterday's presentation was with the presenter, not his slides. His voice was flat, the pacing was the same speed the entire time, his use of a laser pointer was needless when he has these built in pointing tools called arms, and he stood in the same place the entire time. Afterwards, I expressed to him that he needs to view the presentation as a story and that he needs to tell a compelling and exciting story to his audience. While it is a business presentation, he still needs to engage the audience, control the room, and make his material come alive. That's not an easy thing to do, but a good first step is to sound confident, even if you don't feel confident.

I told him to "fake it till you make it" because projecting confidence, regardless of how you feel on the inside, will eventually lead you to feel confident. Additionally, your outward confidence will give others confidence in you and if you sound authoritative, then people will listen to you. This is a basic fact that almost anyone in a leadership position knows. This is also something that every playground bully knows, even if they lack the understanding of why this works.

Furthermore, speaking up and out in a room will also make you more aware of how to vary your speech. There is a volume other than 3 and a speed other than waytoofast. Speak up, slow down and continuously get feedback from your audience. If you're making a key point, but the audience is reading some miniscule text on your slide, then they will not be listening. My basic rules for slides are:
* If it appears on a slide, you must mention it.
* If something is not on a slide, you can still mention it.
That second point often seems lost on young presenters who equate their slides as their presentations. The slides are a presentation aid, but the words that come out of their mouths should be the most memorable thing the audience remembers.


Buickguy said...

All true. You must be going to Toastmasters on the sly.

Babbler said...