While the well-known truism that people fear public speaking more than death is not entirely accurate, the act of stepping up to do a presentation can induce stomach-churning anxiety for many seasoned business professionals.
Paul Boross, motivational psychologist on Sky’s TV show School of Hard Knocks and author of The Pitching Bible, helps people to overcome the fear of speaking in front of a room full of people. He believes that anyone can be a better presenter with the right training and guidance.
Boross says: “Ultimately, you can make anyone into a much better presenter. What stops people doing it well is their belief system. People think you are either a born presenter or you’re not. You’ve got to change the way you talk. If you vividly imagine that you can present well, it makes it much easier.”
He adds that once people have got over their initial fear of stepping onto the stage, there are techniques that can make presentations more effective. “A good presentation is about clarity, so the structure is important.”
Communicating messages effectively
Marketers need to think about the main message, not only to capture the attention of the audience but to make it shareable across social media too and presentation skills can help with this, says Boross. “A lot of people who think strategically about presentations give capsules of information that can be communicated in 140 characters or less.”
Stephanie Talbot, chief executive at family support charity Alice Charity, says she decided to invest in presentation training to help improve the impact of the charity’s message to stakeholders, as well as to improve the confidence of her young colleagues.
The team embarked on training withMike Grocott, a presentation trainer. Grocott, who is part of the Staffordshire Marketing Academy, helped the charity to produce more effective presentations and to think about the key messages it wanted to communicate.
Talbot says: “The training gave people a presentation structure, made the team think about different types of presentations, and about the value of pre-planning. We had a session with Mike on identifying our target audience, and this helped us to define a message targeted at these different audiences.”
“People think you are either a born presenter or you’re not. You’ve got to change the way you talk. If you vividly imagine that you can present well, it makes it much easier”
Paul Boross, motivational psychologist
Rachel Bentley, marketing manager at Alice Charity, adds that the training “has helped us to think about what we are saying before we present”.
“We have also come up with a new slogan, which is much more focused around what we do and how we do it. The slogan – ‘We help people with the right things, at the right time, in the right way when no one else can’ – is now used by everyone at Alice Charity when they present.”
Making an impact with visuals
Heidi Taylor, head of government and public sector marketing at PwC, recently faced her fear of presenting to a large audience around a year ago. A personal development goal, along with the realisation that she had experience and knowledge worth sharing, motivated Taylor to step onto the conference circuit. Eighteen months on, and with several presentations successfully executed, including at this year’s Marketing Week Live, Taylor has learned the dos and don’ts of giving a good presentation from watching others.
“Too many people start off by talking about themselves and justify why they’re standing on the stage, which is a mistake,” she says, adding: “There’s often too much text on the presentation slides and [people] end up reading them out.”
Instead, she advises: “Always have interesting images. I hardly have any words on any of my slides. Visuals should incorporate the overall message of what the presentation is all about.”
Taylor adds that presenting to a large audience has helped with internal presentations too, as well as inspiring ideas. “[Conference speaking is] a good testing ground for your thinking. The whole process of speaking publicly has helped me refine and consolidate my thinking around what I do.”
Having visuals that sum up the point you are making can be much more powerful than a series of bullet points, believes Taylor. And that’s something that Andrew Hill, marketing manager at commercial fleet operator Burnt Tree Vehicle Rental, has found following the adoption of visual presentation tool Prezi, an alternative to PowerPoint.
Hill says his team uses Prezi in customer and internal meetings to better illustrate the vehicle’s technical specifications. “Prezi forces us to think visually and that’s really powerful. It makes us give better presentations because we can draw attention to the high specification of our vehicles.”
Speaking the right language
However, marketers need to do more to speak the same language as top management in order to have an effect with their presentations, according to research by The Fournaise Marketing Group. Jerome Fontaine, chief executive and chief tracker at Fournaise, says marketers are failing to make an impact within business because they do not understand how to show campaigns can make a difference to the bottom line.
“With 80% of marketers unable to write a P&L [profit and loss statement], they are unable to talk the language of the top management. It’s the job of the company to make money for the shareholders, so if the marketing people do not understand this or aren’t able to master this discipline, then how are they going to prove that what they do is effective?”
He blames education in part. “We studied hundreds of marketing programmes around the world and the majority did not focus on marketing performance and ROI. If the people who run the programmes don’t teach marketers how to think like the board and how to build a P&L, then it’s not surprising that marketers aren’t able to gain the trust of the CEO.”
With 63% of marketers failing to include any financial outcomes when reporting on and presenting marketing results to their chief executives and senior management, the marketing department is falling short when communicating the effectiveness of their work. Fontaine says: “How can marketers better present themselves? They need to make sure they focus on the KPIs that matter. Everything else is just fluff.”
Paul Murphy, head of marketing at computer software and surveillance company Indigo Vision, says training with the Leadership Trust has helped him to understand how to communicate, and work with, different personality types.
The intensive Leading with Impact course, which took place over two and a half days, was a workshop-based training. Part of the training focused on how to identify left- and right-brain thinkers. “We learnt about how to work with different sorts of people. In our company there are lots of right-brain thinkers, such as engineers. This type of thinker is more process-driven, so you need to speak to them in a different language,” says Murphy. He also says that as a result of this training he has changed the way he presents reports to the chief executive. (See At a Glance, below).
Whether marketers are presenting on centre stage at Marketing Week Live, or sharing the results of a marketing campaign with the boardroom, understanding the audience and knowing how they want to be communicated to is key to gaining recognition and respect from marketing peers, as well as senior management.
1. Persuading senior management to negotiate their budget
Chances are you have big plans for next year. You may need to overhaul the website, invest more in social media or kick-start a reseller programme. In order to do this you’re going to need some more budget.
Both situations have the same problem – you’ll need to convince senior management that you can get return on investment, that your cause is worthwhile. To succeed you need to give a compelling presentation in a clear, concise and memorable way that enables senior management to clearly see why they should give you more budget.
2. Presentations are a form of content marketing
All marketers are content marketers these days. There is no escaping it. It may have started with blogs, but now if you want to catch the eye of, and engage with, potential customers when they’re online, then visual content is a must – it can get your key messages across in a way that written content cannot achieve.
3. Growing your business
Many companies realise that the best place to be at a key industry conference is not in a booth but on the stage. Ensuring that the marketing director or manager is a strong presenter, with a remarkable presentation, can be a powerful way to position your company as an expert in the field and create a much bigger brand awareness. You should be aiming to be the keynote speaker that everyone is talking about.