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Part I: Can You Present?

As The CTE, I’m asked this question often, “can you present?” Why, yes I can.  I can present tomorrow, next week, next month, even later on today if my calendar is free. It is what I do, I present, I deliver, I execute.  Yes, if you are asked to present, you should be able to do so in a meaningful and compelling manner.  However, for many, standing in front of an audience of 50, 100, or even 500 may very well be the scariest thing in their life.  The question, “can you present?”, then takes on a whole new meaning.

Are you able to present?

Do you have the ability to present?  Public speaking can be an exhilarating experience, or it can feel as though you just jumped out of a plane without a parachute.  I personally am one of those who find it exhilarating, I am “in my element” as they say when I am presenting to an audience and even in front of the camera.  I am writing this blog out of a series of discussions I have had with some of my peers who have expressed a desire to learn new presentation techniques.

In this 3 part series, I will share my personal insights, experience, and tips to help you become a better presenter and public communicator.

Presentation or Presenter?

There are really great presentations given by very poor presenters, yielding horrible results.  Then there are excellent presenters given poorly crafted presentations who make it very interesting.  I have had the opportunity to observe hundreds of presenters over the nearly 30 years I have been in this industry and after some thought, I have created three categories of presentation styles.

Let me explain.

The Nervous Reader

The Nervous Reader is more comfortable when all of the information is on the slide or written on a piece of paper sitting right in front of their face.  In fact, some find comfort in holding this piece of paper, as if this will provide some sense of control or a place to hide.  Actually, what I have observed is most do this in order to occupy the hands since people who are very uncomfortable presenting or speaking in public really do not know what to do with the hands when presenting.  From my personal experience, holding a piece of paper only acts as a noisemaker when the hands begin to shake, causing a rattling, which triggers the voice to become more tense, dry, and squeaky.

Performing in Oklahoma!

Yes, this actually happened to me when I first auditioned for the musical, Oklahoma!, in high school, I was asked to sing a song as part of the audition.  Many of my theater friends urged me to audition and kept telling me that I had a good singing voice, things would be okay.  I was nervous, but my group of friends assured me it would be just fine.  The only person in the room, I was told, would be the director and pianist.

However, in reality, the room was filled with others who were also auditioning for the musical.  It was my turn.  I walked up with my music in hand, stood next to the piano, and directly behind a black music stand, commonly found in most high schools.  Instead of setting my music down on the stand and adjusting the height so I could see the words, I decided to hold my sheet of music.  The pianist played about 8 bars and then gave me the “head nod” which was my indication that I should start to sing.  As I began to sing, everything seemed to be fine…and then it happened.  My hands began to shake, the paper was rattling, my reaction was to try to stop my hands from shaking so much as it was beginning to embarrass me during my audition but the more I tried to stop, the more my hands shook.

I could hear my friends whisper loudly to one another, “is he going to be okay?”  I finished the song, along with the percussion section lead by my nervous hands and rattling sheet music.  I felt like I just ran a marathon…but I just sang, “Poor Judd is Dead” – a three-minute song.

That was about all I could take.  NOW, did the director like it, or did I totally mess this up because of my lack of performance experience?  Fortunately for me, I got the part as Judd Fry, and I learned a very valuable lesson – if I was going to be in this musical, I needed to get over my fear of performing in front of an audience, I needed to be better prepared.

For the Nervous Reader, the best advice is to be prepared!!!  I was not prepared for that audition, I knew the song, but I hadn’t practiced it as much as I should become comfortable with my voice, its projection capabilities, my body position, and what to do with my hands.  Just like being in a musical or a play, you need to know your lines, know your part and feel comfortable in your own skin performing, because that is what presenting really is, after all, it is a performance.  Instead of having all of the words on your slides or on a piece of paper in front of you, have command over your subject and topic.  Practice, practice, practice.

When I worked for Cheyenne Software as a Pre-Sales Systems Engineer, the inside sales rep and I were doing a little trade show in Chicago and I had to give the presentation.  This was my first presentation to a group, ever.  Yes, I was in plays and musicals in high school and college and even was on the debate team in college, but this was my job and I needed to make sure I delivered this presentation with skill.  I had prepared the night before, having gone through the slides about 12 different times, making sure I knew the slide notes, and how to answer any questions that may arise.  I felt as prepared as I could be for this big day.  As I was walking with my inside salesperson, Kathline, she mentioned that Cheyenne sends its employees to presentation skills training.  Since I was only on board for less than a month, I hadn’t had an opportunity to attend, but was interested in any tips or help she could convey.  What she said didn’t help, more than it scared me.  The following is the conversation we had as we walked to our breakout room.

KATHLINE: In her Long Island, NY accent, “during the training, the instructor would randomly take our foils or presentation away and make us give the presentation from memory.”

ME: That is ridiculous, why would he do such a thing?

KATHLINE: Well, what if  your overhead projector is not available or you cannot connect your laptop to the projector or the projector isn’t there, then what will you do?

ME:  Kathline, but we paid for all of this gear to be there, available and working.  That sure seems like a far stretch for the training, but I guess it would be valuable.

KATHLINE: Well, I suppose they just wanted to make sure you were prepared, no matter what, and you did not panic.

I think you can see where I am going with this story.  As we arrived to our breakout room, we had no projector, no screen, no overhead projector – NOTHING.  When I asked one of the show coordinators where the projector is that we were charged for in this room, the response was, “I’ll check on it and get back to you.”  My presentation was in 15 minutes, he got back to me 45 minutes later, after I had completed my slide-less presentation.  Luckily, I spent hours preparing.  I knew each slide without having to see the slides.  I was able to deliver the material in a meaningful and compelling manner because I was very comfortable with my material, I knew it, and I delivered with confidence.

Foils or transparencies, is what I used “back in the day”.  Occasionally we had a projector, but usually it was an overhead projector.

If you are the type of person who simply loathes the thought of public speaking, but it is a requirement of your role or responsibility, I suggest you use this to your advantage.  I call it, unloading the canons before the enemy has a chance to use them against you.  In other words, come right out and say it,

“Hello, my name is David Chapa and I am here today to speak to you about public speaking.  Now, let me just say right off the bat, this is probably the last place people would find me, standing here and presenting to you because I’m not a big fan of public speaking.  However, because I believe this information I have to share is so valuable, I’m setting that fear and attitude aside so I can help you feel more confident when you have to present.”

When you just say right out in the open, “hey, I hate this as much as you, but this isn’t about me, it is about you.”  You will have won over your audience.

Public speaking is never about you – always about your audience.  When you can accept this and have this be part of your DNA, you will begin to leave the “Nervous Reader” presentation style behind you and begin the journey toward the Master Storyteller.

In subsequent blogs in this series, I will cover the Skilled but Skeptical presentation style, what makes a Master Storyteller, and how to deliver compelling presentations when all you have is a camera and a green screen.

Stay tuned…

-Chapa signing off

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