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The Executive Coaching Corner:  Executive Presence Series

November 20 2014  Blog Series 8 of 9:  Executive Presence:  Developing and Delivering Presentations

Dan and Chip Heath have written an outstanding book entitled Made to Stick (2007), which Iíve recommended as a staple for all my clients who need to develop and deliver presentations. The authors use a six-step model called SUCCESs. Iíve fully embraced this model by applying it to all my presentations. Their model is as follows:   

         Simplicity: Identify your core message.

         Unexpected: Get attention with the unconventional.

         Concrete: Use language that activates the senses and paints a picture.

         Credible: Use outside sources.

         Emotional: People care about people. Itís the juice for action.

         Stories: Stories drive action by inspiring and motivating. 

If you make presentations, I encourage you to invest in this book as a resource. I can attest to its value by saying that the ratings on my presentations have dramatically improved as a result of their advice. I wish I had known about the Heath brothers years ago.  

Once youíve developed your presentation, practicing your delivery comes next. Letís begin with this premise: The audience is rooting for you. They want you to succeed. So itís your obligation to put yourself in a relaxed state of mind so the audience can truly receive you and your message. Here are some tips to help. 

First and foremost, be prepared: Know your topic cold. That comes with practice. Rehearse and practice it over and over so youíre completely comfortable with the content. Do it by yourself, for your friends, colleagues, and whoever will listen. Seek their feedback, and make adjustments. If youíre using equipment, make sure you have backups available. I usually bring flash drives, a timer, a computer, my own clicker, batteries, and a projector. If you want to use a specific introduction, bring an extra copy, because meeting planners are notorious for leaving it behind. Being prepared takes a lot of the pressure off and enables you to be fully present with your audience.

 Itís very common for people to use rituals before going on stage as a way to relax and build confidence. Athletes often do this before a game. For you, it could be wearing your lucky socks, dress, or shoes. It could be touching a rabbitís foot or crossing yourself. Use whatever works to help you stay focused and calm before standing in front of your audience.  

Personally, I say a prayer. Usually, within five minutes of beginning my presentation, I close my eyes, and say, ďPlease let me give the audience exactly what they need and more than they expect,Ē followed by a deep breath and a smile. And then I let it go, because thatís all I can do, and all I can hope for. Iíve prepared thoroughly, and the rest is out of my hands. I just trust that things will go well.

 Now that youíre on stage, itís important to remember that the presentation is about your message, and you need to keep the audience focused on what youíre saying. In doing so, avoid distractions. Jangling earrings can interfere with a microphone. A flashy tie draws attention to the tie, not you and your message. 

To keep your audience engaged, vary your tone, pitch, and pace of speech. Monotones will put an audience to sleep, so vary your pitch and your pace. Pauses can be very effective, and lower tones are ideal. Who would you rather listen to: James Earl Jones or Pee Wee Herman? 

A perfect example of someone who took tone of voice seriously to advance her career was Margaret Thatcher, a former Prime Minister of England. She didnít always sound so cultured and authoritative. In fact, she was initially dubbed a shrieker and criticized for having a shrill voice. A shrill voice can be associated with hysteria, and that doesnít lend itself to gravitas. So she hired a coach to help her develop a voice with lowered tones and to pace herself appropriately. Consider renting the DVD of The Iron Lady, and youíll see what Mrs. Thatcher did to impact her voice and image. Meryl Streep was wonderful in this portrayal.

 Another thing you need to watch out for is ďuptalk,Ē or ending your sentences with a high pitch. This voice inflection makes you sound as though youíre asking a question rather than making a statement. The consequence is that you appear uncertain, and you telegraph a lack of confidence. Also, filler words such as ahs, ums, and ands signal discomfort and are real distractions. Itís better to simply pause and says nothing while you gather your thoughts.

Finally, engage the audience whenever you can. Go through your presentation and look for opportunities to connect with them and get them active mentally or physically. I rarely let 10 minutes go by without giving the audience a chance to respond or an activity to complete.

Stay tuned:  In the next issue, Iíll provide a list of resources

For additional one to two-minute sessions on other topics,  go to the Executive Coaching Corner Archive.