I just finished coaching a team of engineers as they prepared and rehearsed an oral proposal for a large government contract.
The lead presenter, the VP of the company, was charming, intelligent, and engaging. He wasn’t glib by any means, but he spoke easily, confidently, and with authority…until he began his presentation. Then he became overly formal, stiff, and boring.
My work as a coach was both simple and challenging: how to get him to be as he naturally was — charming, intelligent, and engaging — when he was in front of an audience.
I gave him two pieces of advice that I give most technical presenters who want to improve their delivery.
- Be Yourself
Most technical experts go into what I call their “presentation mode.” When they tell me what they’re going to say, they’re fine. They’re lively and interested. They use appropriate vocal variety and a range of natural gestures. They look me in the eye. They use words I understand, and when they realize that they’ve confused me, they explain themselves.
Then something happens to them on the way to the podium. They become stiff and formal. All vitality drains out of them. They speak in overly complex sentences, and they use as many big words, acronyms, and jargon as possible. And they think that’s the way things should be: they’re giving a presentation, after all.
So don’t do it. Don’t switch into your presentation mode. Be yourself — your best self — and talk the way you normally do.
- Be louder and bigger.
Talk to your audience the way you talk to everyone else…only louder and bigger. Raise your voice and you’ll inject energy into it. (You can’t shout in a monotone.) Use your natural gestures (not rehearsed ones), but make them just a little bigger than normal.
There are other things you can do to improve your delivery, mind you, but if you’re yourself in front of the audience…louder and bigger…you’ll be good enough.