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Mar 19, 2024 BY Andrew Buck Marketing

5 Steps (and 3 Whys) to Becoming a Masterful Presenter and Speaker

Mighty Insights

Insights, delivered.

In a sea of noise, the ability to stand out and be heard isn’t a luxury; it’s essential. Your truly great ideas and plans—about how to raise more money, attract more students, improve your website, engage new members, promote new products, etc.—don’t matter a lick if you can’t communicate them confidently.

You need to be clear, yes. But you need to infuse your communication with resonance. You need to not merely communicate; you need to connect. If you develop the ability to turn your thinking into compelling communication—whether to your boss, your teammates, or a conference room full of colleagues—the trajectory of your career (and life) will astound you.

Why bother becoming a supremely skilled presenter?

Opportunities knock

Clarity and confidence don’t just open doors; they obliterate them. The best speakers demand attention and consideration. When you articulate your vision with precision, you’re not just seen; you’re remembered.

You want to persuade

As marketing guru Seth Godin reminds us constantly: The purpose of communication is to create change. If you want to move someone’s thinking or behavior, your ability to use your voice and words to paint a picture of that change is required. Only through great communication can you transform skeptics into supporters.

It’s a confidence game

Every time you step up to speak (even if it’s just to a webcam), you’re embodying a form of courage. With that new dose of courage, your confidence expands. And professional success, both personally and organizationally, hinges largely on confidence—on the willingness to say, “Let’s do this because it’s the best thing to do.” The more your confidence grows, especially in the power of your own ideas, the more you’ll come to believe in your creative instincts.

6 essential steps to powerful presentations

1. Return, always, to empathy

Think of the speakers or communicators who move you. I’m willing to bet they all share one thing in common: An almost magical sense of understanding you. They model empathy. They try to understand their audience as deeply as possible, and then they try to feel what their audience must be feeling.

Ask some basic questions, but do the work and answer them specifically:

  • Who is this audience?

  • What moves them?

  • What are they probably scared of?

  • What excites them and is likely to make them lean forward in their seats?

Every human is unique, of course, so you’ll have to generalize. But that’s OK because your job as a communicator (read: change-maker) is to first try to feel what they feel, so you can meet them in those places. Start where they are so you can take them where they need to go.

2. Know your material to the bone

Whatever you’re presenting should become so familiar to you that it’s second nature. It starts with rehearsing your presentation or speech, but it goes beyond that. This isn’t about memorization; it’s about internalization. The more you master your material, the easier it becomes to connect deeply with your audience. You’ll seem not only like an expert but like a warm, friendly guide who’s there to enlighten them. You’ll build trust, and you’ll have more fun as spontaneity is allowed to bloom.

3. When possible, make it a dialogue

If circumstances allow, make your presentation interactive—even if it’s just as simple as stopping occasionally to ask what people think of what they’re hearing. Connection trumps perfection. Share stories that occur to you in the moment. When someone else chimes in, listen deeply (a skill that takes serious study and practice to master on its own). Your aim is to create a bridge between your ideas and your listener’s reality so that your message lands deeply.

One suggestion: Levity. When asking people who hadn’t planned on talking—and who, instead, had planned only on sitting in that conference room chair and zoning out—to talk, it helps immensely if you smile, tease yourself, or acknowledge that you’re putting them on the spot and asking the rest of the crowd to applaud for this new “volunteer.” Don’t script levity or force it just because there’s a moment of silence; knowing how to deploy levity expertly really only requires experience.

4. Take an improv class

This is advice I offer to every person I come across who’ll listen: Take an improv class. There’s probably one nearby. Don’t worry; you never have to perform onstage if you don’t want to. Just be in the classroom with a dozen or so of your fellow nervous first-timers. A few classes later, you’ll be addicted to improv (at best) or totally comfortable with it (at worst). With improv, you learn not only how to embrace “failure” but how there is, in fact, no such thing as failure when you’re speaking or presenting from a place of openness, perspective, and fun.

Improv class will offer you much more than confidence in your communication; it’ll expose you to lessons we can all benefit from in our daily lives, including reconnecting with a sense of playfulness, building on ideas instead of debating them and using your entire body to communicate. Improv class offers the most profound (and cheapest) therapy I’ve found.

5. Create a beautiful slide deck

If you’re going to present with a slide deck, emphasize design and aesthetics. Use animation to support your ideas and create a certain “vibe.” You can overdo this, of course, but most people seem to underdo it instead. As mentioned above, when you know your material like the back of your hand, your slide deck can emphasize images over words. You want your audience listening to you, not reading over your shoulder.

A note about accessibility: It’s critical. You don’t want to intentionally design anything that some people are unlikely to be able to consume or understand. In a public speaking setting, this could include slides that people with visual impairments couldn’t read; activities, or interactions that people with physical disabilities couldn’t participate in; or speaking without a microphone such that people with hearing impairments can’t hear you. For more on accessibility, check out these articles about how we approach web accessibility.

(Great slide deck design is one of my favorite tangential parts of my job, and if you want to geek out over it with me, feel free to email me at [email protected])

6. Seek feedback and adopt a growth mindset

I’ve been speaking in public since middle school. I’ve performed on HBO, delivered talks to a couple of thousand people at once, presented at dozens of industry conferences, and won national championships in public speaking.

And I’m still not all that great. But, I aim to be. I seek feedback. “Seek” is the key word, because it’s not common for your audience to volunteer criticisms of your presentations, even among your coworkers. So you have to ask for it. See yourself through their eyes. Don’t get defensive; get better.

Refine. Tweak. Practice. Adapt. Enhance. Adopt the mindset that every experience is a chance to learn, not a chance merely to defend your ego.

But why talk about this on a marketing agency blog?

Because everything we design and build at Mighty Citizen is an attempt at effective communication. And furthermore, every step involved in that designing and building relies on communication.

In other words, everything everywhere always is, whether it likes it or not, communicating. So that’s why we want to encourage everyone to become more skilled speakers.

Because transforming your speaking and presenting skills is about more than just getting your point across. It’s about making a difference. You want to affect change in someone’s thinking or behavior, even if just a little bit. Developing your ability communicate out loud is a shortcut to career advancement and effective leadership.

And frankly, it’s a lot of fun.

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