Business Advice from Phyllis Ross

About Phyllis Ross

Phyllis Sheerin Ross, a Contributing Editor to idea site for business, has over
20 years experience in project management, training and business development for Federal Government and commercial organizations.

Phyllis can be reached by phone at 301-384-0769 or by e-mail at bronx1

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Perfect Presentations

by Phyllis Sheerin Ross
Consultant and Freelance Writer

Face it. You really do have to do that presentation. You know that the success of your business/product/service depends upon your ability to pull off a powerful presentation. While that thought may send chills up and down your spine, take comfort from the fact that you are not alone. Fear of speaking in public is way up there on the "list of fears." But, I promise that you can learn to love (well, at least enjoy) doing presentations. I know that I do. And yet once upon a time I was so painfully shy and fearful of speaking in public that school personnel were convinced I had a serious hearing problem. I simply refused to respond when spoken to! Now how in the world did I get from that to where I am now - - someone who truly loves to do presentations? Please allow me to share some of my personal "do's and don'ts" that I guarantee will assist you in looking forward to your next presentation!

Focus on your audience.

You've been asked to do the presentation because you are the expert on your business/product/service. You know your subject. In fact, you know it better than anyone in the audience. So forget about yourself when you're standing in front of a group, and instead really focus on your audience. Watch their expressions. Are they "getting" what you're telling them? Ask them. Involve them in your presentation. People retain interest at a much higher level when they are actively involved in a discussion. Do not rely on notes. You need to be looking at your audience, not at your notes. It's okay to have a couple of 3 x 5 cards with a few sentences to jog your memory, but, remember you can't look at your audience and your notes at the same time. And it's a good deal more important to make eye contact with your audience.

Be prepared.

Be a good "Boy Scout/ Girl Scout." As soon as you hear about the opportunity to present, prepare a rough first draft. Create at least two or three additional drafts until you're comfortable, if not wildly in love, with your presentation. Do not attempt to "wing it." Going in without a prepared speech is a sure guarantee that you'll leave out some critical points that you could have made had you been prepared. Once you have a good solid presentation, you'll use it over and over again. So it's well worth the effort to prepare that outstanding presentation.

Arrive early.

Give yourself lots of time to scope out the room. Make any necessary adjustments to the equipment you'll be using for the presentation. Stand in back of the room and focus your projector. Arrange your handouts. Be there to meet and greet people. Shake hands. Chat with your audience. Do not go flying into the room at the last moment. You're setting yourself up for a possible disaster. You'll be breathless, uncombed, and probably frazzled. You won't get a chance to meet your audience. And even worse, you might run into presentation equipment that doesn't work!

Rehearse your presentation.

Do it in front of a friend and urge him or her to be truthful regarding the contents as well as delivery of your presentation. Videotape yourself. One of my colleagues was horrified to see herself, on videotape, winking coyly at the audience several times during her very serious talk. Video tape will also capture the hands-in-your-pocket, and other "no-no's." Do not memorize your presentation. If you fall into the trap of memorizing, heaven help you if you're interrupted. Will you have to go all the way back to the beginning of your presentation? I've seen it happen, and it's not a pretty sight! Practice your presentation, video tape it, glance if you must at your 3x5 cards, but do not memorize it.

Check in.

Check in with the audience at the start of your presentation. If you're excited to be there, tell them why. If you have trepidation, share your reasons with the audience. I was once exceedingly nervous about doing a presentation for the president of a huge computer corporation. I opened by looking straight at him, and saying, "I'm really nervous being here, and the truth is I'd rather be in Philadelphia!". He burst out laughing, said he understood the reference to W. C. Fields, and acknowledged that he was looking forward to my presentation. Do not open with a joke, unless you're a professional comedian. It's extremely difficult to recover from an opening where a joke has fallen flat.

Dress professionally.

Even if you always wear jeans, or even pajamas while you work, you'll want to "dress up" for your presentation. You'll send several messages to your audience when you do. I cared enough about this presentation to dress up. I'm successful (and we all know that success breeds success). And finally: I'm a serious professional. Do not allow your clothes to "get in the way". Be sure that your audience doesn't spend the first ten minutes of your presentation focused on your Bugs Bunny tie, or wonder why you're wearing lipstick the color of "chopped liver".

Watch the clock.

Time your presentation carefully. If you've been given thirty minutes to do your presentation, make sure you say everything you need to say in thirty minutes. Don't plan to talk for twenty minutes, and assume that you'll get ten minutes worth of questions. Maybe you will, or maybe you won't and you'll be standing in front of the audience with nothing more to say. Do not rush through your presentation. Use your mental energy to think in a calm, controlled, and professional manner. Let your audience know how to reach you, should they have any additional questions. Hand out your business cards. Write your name, telephone number, e-mail address on the white board.

And finally, focus on doing a perfect presentation. Everything about your presentation should be perfect. That includes your handouts, graphics, overhead slides, etc. So there you are, prepared, focused on your audience, rehearsed, dressed professionally, with a perfect presentation. And to boot, you've arrived early! With all this going for you, you can't help but love doing presentations. So, "knock 'em dead", and let me know how it goes!

Copyright © 1999 Phyllis S. Ross

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