Careers can be made or broken in meetings. Here is how to become one of the best speakers in every meeting and distinguish yourself amongst your colleagues.
1. Say less – say it better.
A good presentation is like a Scotsman’s kilt; short enough to be interesting, long enough to cover the essentials.
Remember you are speaking, not writing. Your listeners can retain only a limited amount of information. If you say more than your listeners can retain, they will stop listening. So, keep it simple, keep it short – and make sure that you repeat important information at least once, preferably twice. If I can’t remember what you said, it has no power to influence me.
2. Start with “Your Point”
“Once more unto the breach, dear friends!” (Henry the Fifth)
The fastest way to lose an audience is to talk in general terms with the intention of gradually working towards “your point.” If your listeners do not hear something engaging as soon as you start to speak, they lose the ability to concentrate on what is being said. Start every part of your presentation with something simple, strong – and unequivocal.
3. Use inclusive language
Many people are irritated by speakers who seem to be “lecturing” them – or underestimating their knowledge. They may wait for the opportunity to challenge you. To avoid this, and make sure that everyone feels comfortable, use phrases throughout your presentation to make people feel included and comfortable. Terms such as “As you may know…”, “As most of you know…”, or “As you may be familiar with…”, you can let your listeners know that you appreciate their knowledge and their skill, and make sure that everyone understands what you’re saying — without upsetting the experts.
4. Use questions to engage your listeners
Some of your listeners may “tune out” when they are listening to long, detailed reports and information, but few can resist questions, options and problems. Psychologists tell us that whenever we are presented with a choice, or an option, or when we hear a question, it immediately engages our thinking process. Use this strategy to keep your listeners attentive. For example, instead of simply providing basic facts to accompany your proposal, you may say, “How will we achieve these results?” – and then deliver the information. Or, in outlining certain risks, you might say, “So what are the potential risks?”
Just think of an obvious question that your information answers – and start with that question.
5. Use stories and examples
Most people hate presentations; but almost everyone loves stories. Your information is important and it will never be boring, provided that you can give interesting examples and stories that relate to it.
Tell us the “story” of the benefits of new proposals. Tell us a “story” about how things will be when your proposal is executed successfully. And most of all, tell us the stories of the bad things that could happen if problems are not corrected. Make sure your listeners are included in your stories or can identify with the “characters.”
Stories are an excellent way to get your audience interested, involved – and motivated.
6. Use eye contact to compel your listeners.
Speakers who simply recite their information will always lack authority. Remember that this is a presentation – the more you can make it like a real conversation, the more sincere you sound. We can all read up to 300 words per minute; if someone is reciting information at 150 words per minute, without paying any attention to us, it sounds artificial, feels boring — and is often annoying.
Start by looking at everyone in the meeting; look at each person, make a connection; don’t “scan.”
Don’t simply pause for effect; pause while you look carefully for everyone’s response. Their responses will inform every part of your speaking; you can tell more accurately what pace and volume is required, whether you need to clarify with an example, or to check whether you are being understood.
Your comfort with silence and continuous eye contact is the most powerful way to convey confidence and hold everyone’s attention.
7. Prepare in advance for the tough questions
Don’t lose sleep, or panic about dealing with tough questions. You are the expert. Chances are, you know more about what you are saying than anyone in the room. As the expert, you can think of even tougher questions than your listeners can!
Make a list of the 10 toughest questions you could be asked and prepare simple and powerful responses to each one. For each question, make sure you have a short, strong opening response. Think of it as a strong “headline” which perfectly sums up your point. Then simply prepare three (no more) brief pieces of evidence to support your point. You will conclude by repeating your headlines and referring briefly to each of your three points. By doing this in advance, you will probably anticipate at least 80% of the questions that you might be asked.
This preparation will make a huge difference in your feeling of self-confidence going into your meeting – and you will have that extra confidence throughout your presentation.
Lastly, make a few simple notes to rate your effectiveness after each meeting – and build on your success!