Why polishing your presentation skills can help you deliver the right message

It’s not just sales people who need critical presentation skills, nor is it a skill which is only required when standing in front of the board sharing your department’s key milestones and achievements for the past 12 months. We need this vital skill in so many other circumstances.

I had the misfortune in the ‘corporate world’ to be involved in way too many restructures and reorganisations, all usually ending in redundancies and redeployments. I can recall standing at the front of the room with the line manager, supporting him with my professional demeanor and calmness, and trying to support those sitting, or standing, facing me with a sympathetic look and direct responses to all their queries. Most of the line managers, having been well briefed, remained focused and while nervous were able to ‘keep it together’ and tell their teams the news. However, there was one truly tragic occasion where some presentation ability would have been a bonus and prevented the shocked and horrified faces that resulted.

I found myself supporting the managing director of a company, standing in front of a group of some 15 men, who were all about to be told their roles were at risk of redundancy as the site was closing. The MD stood up, his posture was drooped, he hopped from one foot to another and his arms were folded. That was depressing enough to witness. Then his opening line was: ‘This is as hard for me as it is for you what I am about to tell you, I’ve hardly slept a wink all night. There was nothing I could do to prevent this and it’s really hard for me to have to tell you all this but …’.

The men knew it was going to be bad news – after all I was in the room which was never a good sign right!? So when he delivered his garbled speech they registered surprise, then fury and then rage. Why? Because you could read on all their faces the following tickertape of thoughts and emotions – ‘how dare he stand there, in his shiny expensive suit, with his nice company car, his cushy role and his annual bonus telling us how hard it was for him when he still has a job and a very well paid one too!’

Thankfully, some well-chosen words were interjected by me to calm the situation and we went back ‘on message’, as it were, for the rest of the meeting. But imagine now how some presentation skills would have prevented that?

Let’s replay this with the managing director and instead have him with his feet firmly planted in one spot, he is calm and focused and maintaining eye contact (without staring). He has thought about his opening line, made it appropriate and also made it a ‘grabber’ – a way to get and keep their attention. Instead of thinking about what he was going to say he would be thinking about what he wanted to achieve from the talk – that of getting all those affected to understand the implications of the closure, how the men were going to be supported and what were the next steps the company would be taking.

In the original, failed communication, while he had the credibility to have the discussion, not only did he not present himself very well but he also forgot to tell them what was in it for them and then to signpost next steps and actions required. These are all keys stages in ensuring a success presentation/message delivery.

Remember, only seven percent of a message is delivered by words alone. A bigger 38 percent of the message is received and understood with the aid of the tone those words are delivered in, and a whopping 55% by your body language, so getting any one of these wrong has a big impact on the outcome. This example demonstrates what we all know already, that sadly most people focus their ‘presentation’ energy in the words when actually it’s how those words are delivered that counts for so much more.

In summary, there are two main areas to focus your attention on when contemplating and preparing for a presentation, or delivering a message. Firstly consider your body movements and gestures, your posture and your eye contact; make them fit for purpose. Then consider the material itself. Grab their attention, explain who you are and why they should listen, tell them what’s in it for them, signpost what you are going to cover and then cover it, summarise, check for understanding and then conclude (G.E.T.S.D.U.C©)

So next time you have to deliver an important message, be that an HR related one or a general one, think how polishing your presentation skills might help it be a clear experience for everyone involved.

For more help and advice about HR issues, presentation skills or employee development contact us at www.threedomsolutions.co.uk or follow us on twitter @3domSolutions

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