Whether you suffer from shyness or just can’t work out how to get your ideas across to an audience, help is at hand in the form of ‘Presentation Coach’ Graham Davies, author of The Presentation Coach: Bare Knuckle Brilliance For Every Presenter.
The former criminal barrister and public speaking consultant has devised a highly effective method – and is happy to share it with you too.
Content is king
Graham has a different approach to many other experts when it comes to giving presentations – focusing on the material as a starting point rather than the individual concerned.
‘I think the creation of content and delivery of it are very much intertwined and can’t be separated,’ he explains. ‘Most people turn on the laptop and crank Powerpoint up to warp factor 10 as they draft slides, then just read them out loud.’ And Graham suggests that it’s helpful to see yourself as competing with other things for the attention of your audience.
‘I call my methodology the Bare Knuckle Methodology – you have to fight for the attention of your audience by making sure you are more interesting than the email inbox on their smartphone.’
A lot of the best ideas can be boiled down to a really simple truth – and this realisation is the cornerstone of Graham’s ideas on presenting.
‘The key to my approach is a concept I call the micro-message,’ he explains.
‘Ask yourself what would you say if you only had 10 seconds to say it? It’s the crown jewels or the distilled essence of your message.’
He says that you should refine your message to be as concise and easy to grasp as possible.
‘You need to create a sequence of words which quickly and compellingly conveys the essence of the idea you wish to get across,’ he continues. ‘Make it so memorable that anyone who hears it will want to pass it on to other people.’
Less is more
As well as boiling down your message to its essence, Graham advises keeping the whole presentation as lean as possible too.
‘You have to use the micro-message to determine the key elements of your presentation and to work out the rest of your spoken content. Only material that supports the micro-message should be part of the presentation.
‘Nobody has ever walked out of a conference and said “I wish the speeches had been longer” or “I wish there had been more slides”,’ he says.
In fact, Graham suggests doing less slides and more talking if you want to drive your message home.
‘The most persuasive weapon you have got is the words you say. The least persuasive weapon is the slides you show.
‘Slides can be useful if you are showing a product or illustrating financial information for example, but lists of bullet points are death. Slides are only effective if they contain genuinely striking visual images.’
Practice makes perfect
Once you’ve got the words that you are going to say during your presentation sorted, it’s time to focus on the task of actually delivering those words.
‘When you’ve got a finished presentation you need to start saying the words as much as possible – and not just in front of a mirror, because you won’t have a mirror there on the day.
‘Ideally practise in front of a colleague or in a meeting room in front of some empty chairs. The rehearsal process is the bridge between the written and spoken word.’
The act of practising the presentation, ideally with feedback from colleagues, is vital if you want to sound genuine and engage your audience, Graham explains.
‘You need to practise enough for the presentation to really sound that words you have thought of yourself. You’ll then be able to understand which bits work under pressure and which don’t.’
Body language barrier
While Graham is sceptical about the emphasis placed by some on making the right hand gestures during a presentation, he does stress the importance of eye contact during your talk.
‘Eye contact is a separate issue and is very important,’ he says.
‘Look at the audience for 80 per cent of the time and your notes for no more than 20 per cent of the time. You’ve got to “give good eyeball”.’
You’ve got to be joking
While stand-up comedy routines are best left to the professionals, it can be wise to include some lighter-hearted moments in your presentation.
Graham relates a saying from the world of professional speaking, when the novice speaker asks whether he should use humour in his speech – the reply comes: “Only if you want to get paid!”
‘Humour allows a way of softening up the audience and opening the doors in their minds for your ideas,’ explains Graham.
Conquer your nerves
Feeling nerves before a presentation is natural and understandable, Graham insists – and he offers both a long-term and a short-term solution.
‘You’ll feel less nervous if you create really good content which you know will satisfy your audience, either using my process or another one.
‘That’s the long-term solution, but the short term one is to change your mood from being frightened of something vague to being focused on something specific.’
He suggests focusing on the first two sentences of your presentation – concentrating on how you will make them “striking, strong and compelling”.
‘I’ve given that advice to 17-year-olds preparing for a college presentation and to cabinet ministers and CEOs – and they’ve found it equally useful.
‘Once you’ve got two sentences into your speech, any nerves will simply disappear.’
Image: © Aldo Murillo – iStockphoto.com