Our presentation Skills coach and his expert advice
Today’s informative ‘guest blog’ is provided by our Presentation Skills expert Nick. Help with ‘Killing your darlings’ is just one of the reasons business presenters need third-party input. Our industry specialist for The Aziz Corporation, Nick explains why…..
If you really want to get the best information on a particular topic, then the received wisdom is that you go straight to the source and hear it ‘from the horse’s mouth’. That way you get the ‘full picture’, complete with added passion and some extra little insights that could only be gleaned from the ‘horse’ in question.
My experience as a Presentation Skills coach, however, tells me that this is actually rather flawed thinking. The reality is that those closest to a particular project – or even a belief – often have trouble in explaining it in a manner that is succinct enough for others to fully understand, let along communicate accurately to their peers. They are simply too close to the subject matter – they know too much and have too much to say!
Interestingly, I have found that the more intelligent the presenter, the more likely they are to struggle in this respect – while remaining largely oblivious of the fact. For instance, the only people I have ever declared to be ‘un-trainable’ were a couple of very highly-rated Fund Managers whose super-sized brains had so much going on in them that they simply couldn’t get the nub of how their investment processes worked. Similarly, some of the post-graduate students I help in ‘Dragon’s Den’ scenarios are so keen to give the audience chapter and verse about their pet project that they sometimes forget to tell them what it is they have invented!
To be truly successful with a business presentation you have to go further than simply tailoring your message to suit your specific audience. You need a third party- such as a Presentation Skills coach! – who can react at the preparation stage in the way that an audience is likely to react on the big day!
Typically a coach will pinpoint three pieces of ‘surgery’ that need to be applied to the early draft of a presentation:
First, it will often need re-ordering. For instance, the natural instinct of those post-graduates preparing to enter the Dragon’s Den is to tell their story in a linear fashion, starting with some impressive credentials about personnel, backers, and expertise. Such credentials are certainly important to an audience of investors but will be meaningless until they know what the project actually is!
Second, a presentation needs observing for anything that might confuse or distract someone hearing it for the first time. I was coaching an inventor who had found a way of exploiting new innovations in bicycle design. He held up the relevant part to illustrate his proposition, but I missed much of what he was saying because I squinted away in an attempt to work out which part of the bicycle’s workings he was showing us. “If you were to put a pedal on each end”, I said, “then even someone as stupid as me would get it instantly”.
‘Killing your darlings’
Third and finally, you probably need to cut out a lot of what you plan to say – and you need to be ruthless. You need a third party to help here because it is simply too difficult to start pruning away at what you regard to be essential points and favorite anecdotes. Its like ‘killing your darlings’ – which is exactly what filmmakers call the process. They put a lot of effort into crafting dialogue, acting it out and filming it; then they throw much of it away onto the cutting floor. A good tip for anyone constructing a presentation is to watch the deleted scenes that often feature among the extras on the DVD versions of big movies. You will often hear director’s commentary along the lines of: “It’s a nice scene this, well played by the two leads and it looks gorgeous; but it wasn’t really moving the story forward, so it had to go”.
Working with a coach
So, however well polished your delivery has become, there is still much to be gained from working with a coach. Great actors need a director, directors themselves – together with authors – invariably benefit from an editor; and musicians – can achieve unimagined results and sometimes whole new directions with the help of a producer. The additional bonus for the business presenter with a coach in tow is that delivery side becomes so much easier and more effective once you have really cracked the content.