The pandemic impacted how people live and, most notably, how they interact — after avoiding large groups and sitting behind a camera in 2020 and 2021, many have returned to the office a few days during the week. Even those who are comfortable presenting are feeling a little rusty alternating between live, hybrid and virtual meetings.
I grew up performing on stage, so I have always been comfortable in front of crowds, and about six years ago, I discovered my lifetime of performing could be used in a way I never considered: coaching others who present to clients.
Not a lot of people think of accountants as being interpersonal careers, but as advisors, they are consistently in front of clients. And not only are they client-facing but they are selling both the company and themselves.
While the content of each presentation is unique and tailored to a specific audience, below are some strategies I use to help my colleagues at GHJ #BeMore, enhance their presentation skills and deepen their client relationships.
PUT ONE’S BEST FOOT FORWARD
Whether the presentation is virtual or in-person, confidence is key. In any public appearance, nerves are natural, and through my years on stage, I learned how to minimize them to project confidence and put on my best performance.
Presentations are filled with uncontrollable factors, of course, but there are certain things that can be controlled and prepared for. Once you have done this preparation, it can help you feel like you are on solid ground as you take the stage:
- Make a strong first impression. Introducing oneself seems like an easy skill, but if it is a last-minute meeting request or a presentation where the speaker is already anxious, even this simple task may cause panic. For instances such as this, it can help to have an introduction already prepared. When constructing the introduction, keep it short, sweet and, most importantly, positive.
- Comfort is confidence. Professionalism is important, but so is comfort! Trying to focus while wearing shoes that do not fit makes it difficult to concentrate on anything else. Choose clothing that inspires confidence and will not distract you from your presentation.
- Outsmart technology. It happens to everyone: the presentation that is thwarted by technology issues. While these cannot be completely avoided, testing technology — laptop, projector, camera and/or microphone, depending on setting — before the presentation can help head-off any issues and give the speaker some peace of mind. In addition, moving the presentation to a desktop and a flash drive means a network failure does not mean a presentation failure.
- You are what you eat. Body language is essential to a presentation and, in addition to clothing, food and drink can affect this. One of the most distracting things in presentations is a jittery speaker. Shaking legs and flailing hands can distract the audience from the content — both in-person and virtually. Everyone has foods that do not always agree with them, so note those and pay particular attention to caffeine and carbonation.
These tips will help boost confidence and comfort, which directly affect a person’s speaking cadence and body language — both of which are essential to delivering a clear, impactful presentation.
ENGAGE THE AUDIENCE
As I learned in the theater, engaging the audience is key to a successful performance. This is also important for business presentations as a speaker wants to make sure others are listening to what they have to say.
To engage an audience, one needs to consider the environment in which they are presenting. Whether virtual or in person, each presentation comes with its own unique considerations.
- Body Language
- In-person: Staying calm, relaxed and engaged will keep the audience focused. Look out into the audience and never down at notes or a screen.
- Virtual: Virtual presentations have more to consider when it comes to movement. A swivel in the chair or the occasional hand flying across the bottom of the screen is distracting. Eye contact with the camera can feel unnatural, but it is necessary to connect with the audience. While a virtual presentation means that notes can be left out for easy reference, they should be placed so the speaker can refer to them without turning their head or looking down. Eye contact is both more complicated and more necessary in a virtual setting. Audiences can be multi-tasking and much more easily distracted if they do not feel engaged.
- In-person: Since a speaker does not usually have control of the setting, this is simply noting where one’s body is in relation to the screen and the audience. Whether seated, standing or at a podium, always note posture. Being seated is often the trickiest since one has to be aware of leg position and be cautious not to get too comfortable in that chair!
- Virtual: In a virtual setting, the environment is a choice and choosing the right one is key.
- Many people do not prefer presenting virtually because it feels awkward to have the spotlight on while sitting. There is no harm in standing behind a computer — just remember to adjust the computer and camera accordingly!
- The first thing I look for during presentation prep is body placement. The speaker should adjust their camera, chair and/or distance from the monitor and make sure to be about eye level and centered on the screen without blocking any logos or branding on a background. This adjustment often requires assistance — it is impossible to know how one comes across to a virtual audience without feedback.
- After the speaker is centered in the screen, check the lighting. Virtual audiences can be easily distracted by something as small as shadows across the speaker’s face. Never forget the value of a ring light.
- There may always be a chance of noise interruption, but silencing cell phone and computer notifications and sitting in a quiet room can reduce the risk of disruptions as best as possible. Choosing a spot where background noise and interruptions are minimal can avoid a viral video moment. This is especially important in a timed presentation.
- In addition to the comfort of clothing discussed earlier, confirming which background will be used on the call is essential to wardrobe choice. Wearing a shirt that blends in or clashes can create the illusion of a floating head or make viewers dizzy. It is amazing how much that will distract from the content.
There are many factors to consider while presenting, and it can be overwhelming to check all the boxes.
This is why I am energized to share my best practices from my time on stage with my colleagues. I believe that creating a safe space for practice and constructive feedback allows people to improve their public speaking skills and deliver a strong and memorable presentation.
And it is more than that — being a strong presenter is useful in many scenarios. I love seeing people grow and their posture permanently change as they practice and improve as they work to #BeMore as they invest in themselves through their presentation skills.