Just Go Out There and be Yourself - Yeah, Right!

I've come across this advice in quite a few places over the years, and while it sounds good, it's somewhat limited (and occasionally even just plain wrong). I know it's usually meant well - spoken by a friend just before a terrified speaker goes up on stage to make their business presentation in a last minute attempt to reassure them that all will be well: sadly the truth is that being a good presenter requires more than that. You need to "be yourself" and you need to "perform" at the same time. Tricky? Of course; if it wasn't tricky we'd all be doing it!

Think of the techniques to help you 'perform' as being like walking. Once you're passed the toddler stage, you don't really think about the mechanics of walking, you just use them - without thinking about it - to do the important stuff of getting from A to B. When the techniques are mastered you can concentrate on the business in hand - making your presentation.

What is certainly true is that all the great performers and presenters are themselves when they're delivering their material: with a master, you never get the feeling that you're on the receiving end of 'material'. It always seems to be 'just them talking'. Therein lies their expertise, of course. Billy Connelly, for example appears to be just standing their and saying the first thing that comes to mind.

With this in mind, I've jotted down a few bits and bobs of advice which might help anyone who's got to 'get out there' and make their presentation..... (By the way, number three is the hard one!)

1. Know your material inside out, back to front and sideways. That way it really comes from you and you're not "delivering" it. Comedians can't tell each others jokes because they somehow "don't fit" and a presenter can't deliver someone else's material (or material they're not comfortable with). If you try you'll unfortunately come across as confused, insincere (or both!). You won't have time to think once you're in mid-presentation. (Well, some people do, but not anyone who needs enough help to be reading an introductory article like this! ) Make sure that you've thought about all the different directions you could go from any point in your business presentation.

2. Forgive yourself a mistake. They happen. Your audience will almost always forgive you (and may not even notice!). What they won't forgive is you allowing something trivial to put yourself off. It's not the end of the world. A bad presentation is not a disaster. It's not likely that there were many deaths involved and precious few people will have lost their homes just because of one bad presentation. Think of it as a kind of arrogance to be so upset by mistakes: you're not that important to the people you're talking to, 99.9% of the time.

3. Learn the right techniques for making presentations. It's all well and good being comfortable on stage, being yourself, having good material and so on, but if you can't deliver it you might as well just stay in your room. Learn to use your voice correctly, to carry to the back of the room. Project, don't shout. Making your voice louder is counter-productive: you'll sound like you're trying too hard and your credibility will plummet. To make matters worse, you'll alienate the people at the front and you'll finish absolutely knackered - assuming you don't do permanent damage to your voice, of course!

Techniques should be so integrated to you, your presentation and your style that they stop becoming "techniques" at all, and just become a part of you. You should never let the people you're talking to see the techniques, either. Last year I toured with a dance company and I can distinctly remember hearing a member of the audience enthusing to one of the dancers about how amazing it was to be able to work that hard and for that long: they amount of physical effort involved as "utterly amazing". The dancer was gutted, despite it being intended as a complement by a fan who was absolutely blown away. Why? Because it shouldn't have looked like it was a physical effort at all. Remember this one motto...

If it looks like you're working hard, you're not working hard enough.

4. Don't try and fake it. Stay with who you are. The last thing the audience wants to see is an impression of some else. If they'd wanted to see someone super-confident, ultra-swarve and free from fault, they'd have gone to see someone super-confident, ultra-swarve and free from fault! They've come to see and hear you for a reason.

That's it: four simple suggestions - but I'll say it again... Number three is the hard one: that's the key to all the others. If you can get the right method and techniques so far into you that you don't think about them, you can both be yourself and perform at the same time while you make your presentation.

Remember that this isn't the whole story - and the details of how you do Number Three is something I've drawn a sheet over here....... but never the less, I hope it helps someone.

Dr Simon Raybould is the author of a book on voice (The Little Big Voice) and an ebook on business presentations [http://www.brickwrappedinvelvet.com]. His company - Curved Vision - does really good presentation skills training in the UK .....

..... with fantastic results!