- Define a problem that your audience faces. Then solve it. The human mind tends to fixate on problems: rubber-necking is a case in point. Presentations about problems have both emotional and intellectual appeal. The problem, well-defined, elicits our feelings; the solution elicits our thoughts. Everyone has problems, so why not tickle, then soothe their anxieties. Talk to them about what keeps them up at night.
- Make the familiar, new, or the new, familiar. Bring a new perspective to an old issue, or bring a new issue to the awareness of your audience. Steve Jobs turned clunky IT devices into high status aesthetic objects, while JFK convinced us the moon was a place we could go.
- Say or do something unexpected. The mind of the listener is jolted awake by what it isn’t expecting. The unexpected draws our attention. The predictable lulls us to sleep. . When Barry Goldwater said, “You don’t have to be straight to shoot straight,” people listened…and remembered. Say something unexpected.
- Don’t mistake thoroughness for effectiveness. An audience is not a sponge, eager to soak up data and detail. The more you talk, the less they listen. Or, as the old saying goes, “The mind cannot absorb what the behind cannot endure.”
- Avoid sameness of anything: Sameness is the enemy of the speaker: sameness of pitch, volume, and speed; sameness of gesture; sameness of stance; sameness of types of information, like all facts, all opinions, or nothing but stories. Move adroitly back and forth between all these. Every audience has quants, blue- sky thinkers, and visual thinkers. Give each one a thought in her own language.
- Be an edutainer. Even the most professorial academic speakers win points for being fun to listen to. Spice up your serious review of the issues with stories of your own experience that reveal who you are (an audience craves intimacy with the speaker), and stories that illustrate your points.
- Be careful with PowerPoint. The audience is there to hear your point of view. They are willing to look at PowerPoint to see evidence that your point of view is based on fact. They do not need to see you using PowerPoint as a TelePrompter. Visual displays should contain evidence that supports the speaker’s point. However, please do not place large tracts of written text on your slides.
- Begin and end well. Winston Churchill, no slouch as a speaker, said that in order to give a good talk, you should have a dynamic opening and a powerful closing, and you should put those two things as close together as possible. Work on your opening and your closing. (PS. For the closing, I like to refer back to my attention-getting, problem-focused beginning. Then I summarize my solutions in different words than I used at the start, and then urge the audience to take action.)
- Stay close to home. I’ve seen many people try to inflate their image at some big event by trying to tackle a topic beyond their professional reach. I’ve done this myself, and fallen on my face. Talk about what you know from your own experience. For instance, don’t base your talk on a magazine article you read in the dentist’s office, or a chapter from a book you read. Go with your own stuff.
- View your speech as a chance to build trusting relationships: When you open your Inbox, you click on messages from people you know or trust. The same principle holds for speakers: you listen and respond to talks delivered by people you know, have heard of, or have earned your trust by the way they present themselves and their ideas. Speak to build trust with your audience. When your speech is honest and sincere, spoken in the language of the audience, and about an issue that is important to them, you will succeed. In the end, you do well by doing good.
How to improve executive presence? Try to make one of these changes the next time you need to interact with colleagues and build from there.
Sims Wyeth & Co. provides public speaking courses, leadership skills, presentation skills, voice training, speech training, speech writing, and courses that address stage fright, body language, presentation strategy, persuasive speaking, sales training, and effective use of PowerPoint, all of which contribute to greater executive presence and personal impact.