Public Speaking Skills: Presentation Tips, Techniques, and Advice
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Presentation Skills: Presentation Format: Informal Presentations

Making the "Un-Presentation"
Beware: That "Meeting" or "Informal Chat" Could Be a Presentation in Disguise

It happens every day. The unsuspecting mark gets a request to “talk” at a meeting. It sounds informal, but it isn’t. Every word, every gesture, every answer to every question will be under “formal” scrutiny.

To dodge this hoax, learn the warning signs—and be ready with a few tricks of your own.

Here are some of the ways you may be led down this path—and some tips on turning things to your advantage:

“It's no big deal, just an information meeting”
This is another way you may be lulled into thinking the presentation is just a casual exchange, with no need to prepare yourself in advance. If there’s any chance you'll end up pitching your ideas or selling yourself, your team, or your company, you need to be ready to make a persuasive presentation.

Prepare to make a persuasive argument. Know your audience, your goals, and the key points that will be persuasive to your listeners.

“The deal is set. The ‘presentation’ is just a formality.”
Well, maybe. If you show up unprepared, you’re putting yourself at risk. Very often, this final meeting is very important and worthy of a full preparation for a presentation and whatever questions may arise. Expect to be challenged. That way you’re ready for anything, and you’ll be better prepared to gain your listener’s full confidence. The alternative, arriving unprepared, can put you and your deal in jeopardy.

“We'll just be sitting around the table. No one needs to get up to speak.”
This lulls you into believing you'll be attending a purely casual gathering. It implies you won’t have to leave the security of your seat. Don't be rooked. In most cases, you should get up in front of the group to make your case. That gives you a few advantages right off the bat. For one, your listeners are better able to see you and to see your full body language. Body language is an important tool in gaining people’s trust and support. (For advice on body language for a standing presentation, see our archived article, While You're Talking, What Is Your Body Saying?)

Standing up also gives you quicker access to flipcharts, marker boards, and other off-the-cuff visual aids. Sketch out “spontaneous” visual aids in advance so you’re ready when that “impromptu” moment arises.

Should you get up to speak in every instance when you’re presenting "informally?"
Use your judgment. Read the room and adapt to the specific circumstance. You may sense the setting does not warrant a stand-up presentation. But if you determine that standing up to present best serves your purpose, then use the opportunity. If you decide it’s best to remain seated, then do what you can to keep control of the room and to maximize your impact as a speaker. In either case, go into the meeting well prepared.

Effective Body Language for the Seated Presenter
If you must remain seated for the duration, then follow best practices for a seated presentation. Sit up straight with your feet flat on the floor. Your body should form right angles at your pelvis and knees so that your upper body is upright. Your arms should be relaxed (unless gesturing); if you’re at a table, rest your hands gently on the table (don’t lean on the table at all—this can impede your gestures).

Now get a feeling for how this all comes together. Start with your feet. Make sure they are both flat on the ground and actually bearing some of your weight. This will help keep your body and energy forward. You can actually test this right now if you’re seated. Get a feeling for your position and your weight being forward. If you make some big movements with your arms, you should feel them reflected in the points of contact on the soles of your feet. Now, try crossing your legs. You will probably feel your weight shift backward in the chair. It won’t be as easy to gesture. You also won’t look (or feel) as attentive. Then, return to the forward balanced position with your feet flat on the ground—see how much better that is?

Next, practice your gestures. Make sure they arise from the shoulder, not just the wrist or elbow. Your arms should not be touching the table while you’re gesturing, since that will impede your movement. Reach away from your body with at least some gestures that are large enough to encompass all your listeners, but WATCH OUT! Be careful not to hit anyone or anything as you gesture. It’s all too easy to get carried away with a point that ends up slapping your neighbor in the face or spilling a glass of water over your lap.

Keep your guard up!
Remember: A presentation is always a presentation, no matter how it’s disguised. And a presentation is always an opportunity for you to showcase your ability, persuade your audience, or advance your career. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. What may seem small or informal or “just another meeting” can turn out to be something much more important. Make certain you take advantage of every opportunity.

This Issue

You can get help preparing for your next "casual" meeting or "impromptu" chat by scheduling a private coaching session or by attending a group presentations skills class where you will learn how to get ready for any presentation more quickly and effectively.

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