Friday 25 May 2018

Gina London: Learn to speak like a child and tell story with passion


Gina London

As Ireland's most beloved communications columnist (well, why not? If I say it enough times, maybe we'll all come to believe it), I am delighted to share some top presentation tips I picked up from my darling daughter, Lulu.

I'll package them as part of another segment in my 'Back To School' series for business professionals.

As many parents discover, our best teachers are not always found at that conference we paid top dollar (I mean, euro) for in London or Dublin or New York, but among us already - around knee or thigh level. They're our children. Like my young daughter.

Think about this: Nearly every child on the planet can tell a story in an enthusiastic and animated way. So, at what point in our adult careers do we apparently accept that every business presentation should be dry and emotionless? Take these tips from Lulu and your presentations will become more persuasive, memorable and effective.

1 Keep it simple. Lulu has the vocabulary of, well, a child. And while I'm not advocating you break your words down to the ground, it's important to consider every audience a lay audience. Stay away from technical jargon or shop-talk. Just because your department has been describing it as the 'business development solutions ecosystem' doesn't mean everyone else has any idea what that means (and I did not make that example up).

2 Put some heart into it. No matter what the topic, the child storyteller is always passionate. Are you presenting record year-end profits? Get excited! Are you urging your team to meet increased sales goals? Be compassionate and encouraging. Infusing your presentation with emotion is not about wearing your heart on your sleeve, it is about connecting with your audience. Remember, the first rule of human behaviour is that people make decisions emotionally.

3 Gesticulate. Along with her vocal intensity, Lulu instinctively uses her body. Her arms stretch out wide when she exclaims: "That dog was HUGE." Take your hands off the podium or lectern and add some emphasis. Not wild hand-waving, but consider adding broad deliberate gestures, varied postures and movement, enhanced facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal communication to punch up your presentations.

4 Tell a story. Dinner time is never dull when Lulu tells us a story. You may find this counter-intuitive but, when in doubt, cut some information from your presentation and tell a heart-felt story instead. Make it personal. Make it tie into your message. But do tell a story. Your audience will thank you and most importantly of all, they will better remember what you have to say.

Read more: Gina London: Six ways you can prevent 'Death by PowerPoint'

Now, you already may be thinking this, so let me jump ahead and acknowledge that not everything my daughter does makes for good presentation learning tools. In fact, here are four things Lulu does that you should NOT incorporate into your next business presentation.

Unfortunately, I've seen plenty of professionals make these mistakes. So, let's grow up and punch up our next presentations by remembering to avoid these childish behaviours.

1 Don't ramble. Lulu's stories often give you an enchanting exploration of her active little mind. She veers off-track and wanders down a tangential rabbit hole with abandon. Your presentation, however, better stay focused. While I never advocate simply reading a presentation, pure ad-lib is even more dangerous. Disorganised flow is a telling sign of lack of preparation and makes it difficult for your audience to follow and retain messages.

2 Don't throw a tantrum. We've all seen it. Something goes wrong and suddenly the youngster is on the floor kicking and screaming. Well, things can go wrong in a presentation too. Somebody forgot to load the most recent slide deck, the clicker goes missing or the microphone doesn't work. Whatever the problem, keep your cool. Get to your presentation room early to give you plenty of time to set up. And always prepare a back-up, just in case. Maybe you're not about to hit the floor like a toddler, but hitting the roof, or even appearing frustrated is not allowed either.

3 Don't think it's all about you. Audience point of view is not something Lulu likely considers when she tells a story. She's simply in the moment. But strategizing about your audience is essential to creating an effective business presentation. Who are they? What are they expecting? What would they like to hear? What are they afraid of? What's in it for them? Even though you may be the one up on stage, remember, it's really all about them.

4 Don't forget to pause. Lulu doesn't always think before she speaks. This morning, while I was on the phone, she barged into the room yelling for something. I told her: "Lulu, honey, don't interrupt when I'm talking, it's rude." "Well, you're rude!" she immediately fired back. We need to learn how to handle an unexpected, aggressive question or bit of feedback from our audience. Don't take it personally and don't fire back. Stop for a moment and try to consider the other person's point of view. Ask a question or two to get clarification. Seek common ground.

Our children aren't the only ones who can go learn a thing or two this term - we can too.

Do you have a big presentation coming up? For clients? Employees? Investors? Write to Gina in care of and let her help you be better than you can imagine. 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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