Turn a lifetime of experience into a compelling presentation

by Laura Bruce, Toastmasters International / 1/11/2018 12:29:40 PM

Stepping up to the platform or to the front of a meeting room can be daunting even for a seasoned professional.

Do a good job, and win respect, admiration, and win business. Do poorly, and you will wish you had stayed home.

If you’ve got years of project management experience, seizing the opportunity to speak to an audience can bring tremendous rewards. Twenty or more into your career, you’ve got more expertise than anyone in your field.

But are you recognised as an expert? Until you can demonstrate your expertise in a compelling manner, you’ll miss out on the best rewards. You won’t command the highest fees, negotiate the best deals, or get the plum projects.

The key to being recognised comes down to how you communicate your knowledge. The single best way to leverage your knowledge is to create a compelling presentation. Fortunately, you can create a terrific presentation and acquire the skills to present it well in weeks, rather than years.

Get your presentation content on track

The most difficult part is behind you. After years of hard graft, your industry knowledge is both deep, and wide. Start by choosing your topic. For maximum appeal, identify a narrow slice of your area of expertise. By going deep on a slice of your area, and avoiding generalities, you’ll be forced to be specific.

What do people ask you about? What are you known for? Imagine speaking to a group of your peers, or customers. What are people intrigued by? What do they speculate about? Listen carefully to the conversations at conferences and meetings, and take your cue from these.

If you’ve got an intriguing topic, you’ll have an advantage. An audience that is intrigued by your topic is a receptive one.

Once you’ve selected narrowed down your niche, it’s time to decide what you would like your audience to know when you are finished speaking.  As Dr Stephen Covey advises in The 7 habits of highly effective people, “start with the end in mind”. Identify three main points you will make.

Sketch these out on paper, creating a graphic/mind map. Now note down three or more interesting or important aspects of each of your three main points. Is there a story you can tell to illustrate your point? People love stories. They bring examples to life.

As you are very likely to be using figures or statistics, see if you can bring these to life particularly if you have no-technical people in your audience. Think about translating numbers into analogies your audience can relate to. This will reduce barriers to understanding, and improve how your material is received.

Depending on the amount of time you’ve been allotted, you can add more layers of examples. But avoid trying to communicate too much information. If your topic is technical, only the most enthusiastic will be able to sustain their attention for more than a few minutes.

To give you the best chance of maintaining your audience’s attention be succinct. Don’t go into more detail than necessary to make a point or illustrate an example. Your audience will thank you!

Write down your presentation. Structure it into your three main points.  Add a beginning, and a conclusion. One hint: it’s helpful to signal your closing. By saying, “And in conclusion. . .” you give your audience a clue that you are nearly finished, and they’ll reward you with renewed attention.

And if you really want to “wow” your audience, don’t use slides at all. By being the speaker who simply spoke to her audience, without any audio-visual backup, you may paradoxically make the biggest impression.

It’s all down to your delivery.

Get your presentation delivery on track

There are two parts to a compelling presentation: the content, and the delivery.

To really stand out, you’ll need more than just your great presentation: you’ll have to deliver it with aplomb.

While you may never be entirely comfortable speaking to a group, there are ways to become less anxious.

The most important part of being comfortable on stage, is to be prepared. There really is no substitute for knowing your material inside and out. So practise your presentation.

Start by reading it aloud. Are parts too wordy? One of the most common mistakes rookie speakers make is to use over-long sentences. These can create mechanical problems that may make you think you are anxious. Did you know that speaking sentences that are too long can leave you breathless – literally? Shorten them and you’ll eliminate the risk of needless strain.  You will also sound more conversational.

Knowing your audience is helpful. It enables you to use language they will understand, and perhaps even make a joke or two.

If I’m doing an important presentation, I like to record it and listen to it a number of times. I will play it back while I am driving, and speak along to the recording. I will make a fresh recording as I get better. Recording helps gives more accurate inflection, and I gain a better handle on where to put the emphasis in each sentence.

Record and review

Remember why you are there in the first place. You want to establish your authority, by sharing your expertise.

Get up on stage, and give them a big smile. It will relax you!  Video your speech or presentation, if possible, so you can review it later. You’ll be able to objectively assess your presentation on screen in a way you’re simply not able to in the moment. Like any expert project manager do a review and get feedback from others. Note of what you did well, and areas you’d like to improve. Bring your learning to your next, improved presentation and keeping drawing attention to the depth of your expertise.  That way you’ll gain more of the interesting and lucrative project roles that you deserve.


Laura Bruce is from Toastmasters International a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 345,000 in more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club: www.toastmasters.org  Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

For Toastmasters in the UK:  www.toastmasters.org.uk




Latest Book

Cover for Management of Portfolios