How to Own Your Next Presentation

stage fright

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Posted: March 31, 2014 | Event Marketing

Be honest: could you get through an entire presentation without saying “um”? When you speak to a room full of people, do you make enough (but not too much!) eye contact? Do you keep your hands in your pockets, or do you imitate a hula dancer? And lastly, do you know the one thing you want your audience to take away from your presentation?

If you’re in marketing, you probably think a lot about delivering content to your audience, but the way that you personally deliver content (whether it’s during a webinar, a sales call, a product demo, or a conference session) is just as important as your email open-rates. Knowing how to give a stellar presentation could affect your company’s reputation within your industry, your ability to clearly communicate with prospect and customers, or even the timing of your next promotion.

With our own user conference fast approaching (only one week away!), a group of Marketo employees recently attended a delivery skills training session with the spectacular Rexi Media. As professional marketers (not professional performers/actors/circus barkers) we needed a few pointers on our presentation skills. Here’s why a great presentation isn’t just about your content – it’s also about how you deliver.

The Content

Don’t get me wrong – a fantastic presentation isn’t all about style. The most important part of delivering a presentation, regardless of your purpose, is to know what your purpose is. You can assume that your audience will only remember about 10% of the content you present, so what do you want that 10% to be? Do you want them to perform a specific action, understand a new concept, or gain a new perspective?

Once you’ve decided what your presentation’s purpose/takeaway is, here’s how to make it part of the 10% your audience remembers:

  • Hit on that takeaway in your introduction, conclusion, and throughout your presentation. (Note, that doesn’t mean repeat yourself over and over; it just means you should keep touching on the same idea).
  • Don’t bombard your audience with information. That’s a surefire way to reduce that 10% to 1%, or to none.
  • Keep your audience engaged with visuals, analogies, and stories. The more ways you can give your audience to process and remember your central message, the better.
  • Speak to what you know. If the content is unfamiliar, you won’t be able to go off-script.

For example, I recently gave a webinar about keeping your content marketing fresh, which is something we think about a lot at Marketo. We know that many marketers find it challenging to continuously create content, or feel hesitant to even start creating content because they aren’t sure they can maintain a healthy cadence. The goal of my webinar was to help marketers feel less intimidated by content creation, and to give them some concrete ideas for getting started (or for ramping up the processes they already had).

Obviously, there are plenty of solid strategies out there for creating valuable content marketing, so I’d been able to fill my slide deck with cool ideas and examples. But the takeaway that I really cared about wasn’t the sum of each individual idea – in fact, by spending so much time on individual ideas, I risked bombarding my audience. Worse yet, I risked convincing my audience that content creation is really complicated and confusing – the opposite of what I’d intended to say.

Basically, if any part of your message would be easier to digest in an ebook or an email, leave it out of your presentation. A presentation isn’t your chance to impart facts (remember that 10% retention rate?) – it’s your chance to resonate with your audience on a personal level. As all marketers know, people generally don’t make decisions based on facts – they go with their emotional gut. There’s nothing wrong with a few statistics, but focus on pain points, challenges, and emotional motivations.

On that note, speak to what you know about. Personally, I’m one million times more confident speaking about a topic I know inside and out. Even if I have a script written out, down to the word, I feel scattered and unsteady if the topic isn’t familiar, and my presentations definitely suffer. I sound less natural, because I’m not really speaking – I’m reading. Another downside to relying on a script is that when something goes wrong – the wifi doesn’t work, or your slides don’t save correctly, or an interruptive audience member throws you off – you’ll be completely at sea.

The Delivery Itself

Once you’ve got your content figured out, it’s time to focus on the delivery itself. During our session, my colleagues and I were invited to stand and deliver short speeches – some of us used slides and practiced our presentations for Marketo’s Summit; others winged it with casual stories about our weekends. In this exercise, the point was to learn about our verbal and physical ticks. While you can’t eliminate all of these tics at once, noticing their existence is the first step.

Here are some places to start with your own delivery:

  • Pace yourself. However slowly and clearly you think you’re speaking, you could probably speak a little more slowly and clearly. Enunciate your words, and vary your pacing only when it’s intentional – speeding up or slowing down for dramatic effect can be very powerful; speeding up because you’re worried you’ll run out of time, or because you’re nervous, will distract from your message.
  • Root out verbal tics. Personally, I say “um” roughly 100 times per minute – or at least it feels that way. Whatever your personal tic is (“like”? “the, uh”?), start listening for it, and consciously clearing it from your presentation vocabulary. It might seem impossible at first, but practice makes perfect. People also tend to lean on verbal tics when they’re not sure what to say next, so the more comfortable you are with your material, the less of a problem these will be.
  • Make eye contact. Another exercise we did was to simply make eye contact with one person (no looking away!) for two full minutes. When you give an in-person presentation, don’t be afraid to lock eyes with audience members for a few seconds – you don’t want to creep anyone out, but if your eyes dart around too quickly, you look shifty and nervous. Also, make sure that you make eye contact in every part of the room. If you ignore one section, that part of your audience will feel disconnected.
  • Watch your body language. It really doesn’t matter how you stand – do whatever makes you comfortable. Hands are a slightly different story, as we tend to release anxiety with our hand movements. Avoid fiddling with your jewelry, clasping your hands just below your waist (aka “the fig leaf”), swaying from side to side, crossing your arms in front of your chest (this looks standoffish or aggressive), or making a lot of hand gestures in front of your face (people like to see your face when you speak).

So how do you catch your tics? If you’re lucky enough to get a group of budding public speakers together, you can give one another constructive criticism. Have a friend film you practicing (even a smartphone camera will give you plenty to work with), or leave a message on your own voicemail. Be brutally honest about your presenting skills, and if possible get a second opinion.

The point isn’t to be clearly conscious of all of these delivery areas at once – you’d be so busy thinking about where your hands are that you’d forget your actual content. The point is to make each of these small adjustments second nature. In the same way that an Olympic runner doesn’t have to think about each foot lifting off of the track, you’ll get to a point where making eye contact becomes automatic, and you’d never dream of saying “um” into a microphone. Start by noticing, improve by practicing.

When it comes to presentation skills, I certainly have my homework, and I hope  you’ve learned a few new strategies as well. If you have any pro presentation tips to share – whether it’s about the content you present, or the delivery system itself – let us know! Drop your suggestions in the comments below.

Want to learn more about owning your next presentation? Check out our own Glen Lipka’s session, “How to Give a Great Presentation” next Wednesday at Marketo’s Marketing Nation Summit.

Maggie Jones is a Content Marketing Specialist at Marketo, a casual reader of the Chicago Manual of Style, and a lover of Oxford commas. The recipient of an MFA in nonfiction writing, Maggie loves information that tells stories, from long-form journalism to the tiniest tweets.

Read Maggie's Blogs

Fear public speaking? Want to own your next #marketing presentation? Here's how (and what) to deliver.

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