Gina London: Find your voice - how to master public speaking
March Madness officially kicks off today in the US. And it's not only because the Irish delegations are arriving in advance of St Patrick's Day. It's because this is Selection Sunday - when the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) reveals which top 68 teams in the nation get to play in 'The Big Dance' (it's really called that) of men's college basketball championships.
If you have ever worked in a US company during this month-long tournament, you were probably handed a form with brackets to fill out to become part of the betting pool. Let me assure you, it's a really big deal.
And so, in honour of this annual sporting spectacle, I am going to offer you my own Selection Sunday of communication tips to help improve your professional presentation - if not your basketball playing - performance. I'll bracket out my tips in the form of Questions and Answers.
Q Why do many business professionals stop acting like 'people' once they're in a so-called presentational setting?
A The number one reason is that many simply don't know how to effectively structure the content and prepare the delivery of a presentation.
This leads to nerves and self-doubt. You might want to hide or disappear. Maybe you're a flurry of unmotivated movement and sounds as you rush through your words, pace back and forth and gesture aimlessly to get through your ordeal as quickly as possible.
Or perhaps you do the complete opposite. You speak and move like an emotionless robot droning and plodding as you read your presentation. Word. For. Painful. Word.
Either of these approaches prevents you from making a human connection with your audience.
Q What about people who say they don't need to prepare; that they just 'wing it'?
A Just because some people are more outgoing or are comfortable in front of an audience, doesn't mean they shouldn't prepare.
While charisma or confidence makes some presentations marginally better than others, many of these under-prepared presentations lack a clear message or intention. No one is naturally a masterful presenter.
The best presenters are those who put proper thought and structure into why they are presenting and what their audience needs to know.
Q Is there a middle ground between freaking out and winging it?
A Definitely. Understanding that presentations need a purpose and that purpose needs to be stated clearly and reinforced with everything from data to stories, is the first step toward what I call 'intentional communications'.
Effective presentations are not about explaining every little thing about a topic, although some seem to think so. They are about motivating an audience to a narrowly defined action like encouraging people to modify their behaviour or to recognise a new idea. Crafting a presentation with a clear message and intent, backed by layers of support, is an attainable thing.
In fact, it's easier than the way many seem to go about doing it. Sometimes the hard way is the easy way.
Q Is it possible to over prepare for a presentation?
A Oh yes. I have said before right here in this column that practice doesn't make perfect, it makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.
Many poor presentations are over-prepared. Too much time and effort can be spent trying to do ineffective things.
It's critical to try to get in the head of your audience and determine their point of view. Focus on their agenda first and then craft your agenda from that starting point.
Q Why is it important to practise the delivery of a presentation hand-in-hand with the creation of its content?
A How you present is just as important - if not more so - than what you present. It's often said: "People may not remember everything you told them, but they'll remember how you made them feel."
Your delivery will make the words that you have crafted either come to life or remain dead on the page. Therefore, you'll want to rehearse out loud to get used to the sound of projecting your voice and to explore ways to enhance your delivery by varying your pace, pitch and inflection.
You can sit down at your desk and think as hard as you can, but there's no substitute for standing up and trying things out.
If you want to create a natural presentation, you should ideally brainstorm not only on paper, but also on your feet.
We speak differently than we write. That's why when it comes to presentations I often say: "Be the movie - not the book."
All righty, sport fans, those are your March Madness tips from your beloved coach.
Even if you don't love American college basketball, I'll bet you can score a three-pointer from court the next time you shoot some presentational hoops.
PS: Speaking of 'shoot' ... for my friend Joseph and any others of you out there who are confused how to pronounce 'prosciutto' or 'bruschetta' As one who lived in Tuscany for three years before I moved to Ireland, the first is 'pro-shoot-oh' and the second is 'bru-skay-tah'. There. Now you know.
Are you expecting any madness in your March? How might I help? Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie
Gina London is a former CNN anchor and international campaign strategist who is now a director with Fuzion Communications. She serves as media commentator, emcee and corporate consultant. @TheGinaLondon
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