Public Speaking Tips for Presenting to Managers
Presenting to Senior Management can often cause the greatest anxiety.
Many presenters say:
‘I can handle talking in front of colleagues or customers, but when I have to present to my superiors I get particularly nervous.’
Public Speaking is anxiety-inducing at the best of times.
For most of us, there is always the unsettling feeling that we are being silently judged.
In many ways, Public Speaking is one of the great ‘ink-blot tests’, because just as we are supposed to show something of what we are preoccupied with as we explain what we can see in the abstract in-blot, there is a tendency to superimpose our anxieties onto the faces of the listening audience when we are speaking.
Standing up in front of a room full of people can be like those strange dreams we have where we arrive at a meeting naked, unprepared, and vulnerable and have to speak in front of a full room and if you feel particularly criticised by your mother-in-law, she will also be there in the audience, as will the man from down the road who unsettles you with his sneering, superior expression
If we are feeling insecure, we can imagine all those faces passing judgement on our inadequacies.
If we are suffering from a dose of ‘imposter syndrome’, we will be sure that the audience can see straight through us.
Whatever it is that makes us insecure becomes magnified.
I remember running a presentation skills course for a team of Art Historians and discovered that their universal presenting nightmare was to be delivering their lecture to a room full of experts and having someone at the back of the room nodding condescendingly as if to say:
‘You have got this wrong, I know more about this subject than you do!’
Small wonder that when we are presenting to our bosses there is an extra level of jeopardy in the presentation, because these people are not just judging us, but might even have our future careers and promotion prospects in their hands.
10 tips for presenting to experts
Some of these are physical or technical considerations, but inevitably many of these are psychological tips: how to control your thoughts, set the correct attitude, and put yourself in the right frame of mind.
Know your message
A mistake that presenters and trainers regularly make is to believe they need to know everything.
You don’t need to know everything. You don’t even need to know much. You just need to know what it is you need to talk about. If you can draw a tight circle around your subject, have a clear message to deliver, and make sure you know everything you need to know within that circle, then already much of the anxiety will be reduced:
‘Today I want to give you information about ‘X’; not ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ and so everything I have prepared revolves around ‘X’. If they now start asking about ‘Y’ and ‘Z’, they are the foolish ones because you have already made it clear where your focus is going to be.
And if you are very clear about your message, for example:
‘How adopting ‘X’ will benefit the organisation.’
then you have drawn this tight circle around the content of your presentation and that is all you will need to focus on.
Know the value of your message
Usually, if we are asked to present to senior management, they have requested specific information on a certain subject or they are looking for various individuals to present a range of suggestions to address a particular situation. In the end, they are likely to make the final decision – that is their job as senior management after all! Therefore if you know what sort of information they are looking for and you are clear about what you intend to cover and how to cover it, you will have the confidence to know that you are executing your job properly.
Establish your credibility
Sometimes this may require some tact. If you are the expert in a field and that is why you have been asked to present, then there is no problem in laying out your qualifications and experience to reassure them that your findings are worth noting. Sometimes however if you are a junior presenting to seniors, you may feel I inappropriate to imply you know too much. This is why Tip #1 is so important. You are not implying that you know more than they do about the whole subject, you are just reassuring them that you have focused your attention on this small area of knowledge and have done the full research.
Numbers and Statistics
Numbers and statistics make any presentation sound more credible - as long as you avoid overloading the presentation with too many.
Numbers and statistics add credibility and objectivity to a presentation. There can be no suggestion that you are getting ahead of yourself and offering opinions when they are not requested, because ‘numbers never lie’ which means you are offering objective facts rather than personal opinions.
Do their work for them
Depending on what your brief is, you might want to gather the information together and present a conclusion to your audience, or otherwise, you might only be required to gather and collate the information so that they can come to their conclusions. Whichever route you take if you can show that by your presentation you are effectively doing some of the footwork for them and by making their decisions easier to come to, you will be appreciated for doing a professional job. If you know that they will need to go on and present their conclusions to a wider audience, you could even give them a set of words or images that they could use.
People see in pictures. Therefore back up your facts with vivid images or with stories and examples that clearly illustrate your point. Senior managers are usually busy people and there are probably many demands on their time and attention, so to be able to encapsulate your messages with clear, simple imagery means there is a much greater chance that your work will cut through against all the other competing messages.
Be prepared to answer questions
Question and Answer sessions are often regarded with dread. They should not be so alarming.
Particularly if you have drawn a clear circle around your content as indicated in Tip #1, you will know that all the relevant questions will be centred round the core of your presentation. If they ask about ‘Y’ and ‘Z’ and you have already told them you intend to focus solely on ‘X’, you can explain that was not part of your brief or intended subject. However, on occasions, you may still get a question that falls within your circle that you do not know the answer to. Politely let them know that you do not have that information directly to hand and let them know when they can expect it.
I still laugh at that one. It is like saying:
‘Don’t be nervous.’ or ‘There is nothing to fear!’
If I could not be nervous, I would not be and if I could stay calm simply by saying ‘Be calm’ – I would be!
So the best we can do is not to reveal that we are flustered.
If they ask you a question that you probably should know the answer to, try to take it on the chin and promise an answer as per above. If you show yourself to be flustered or ‘caught out’, they might start to wonder what other areas you are not so sure about.
There is no harm in a little Self-Talk.
Self-talk should not be some fanciful set of vague mantras:
‘I am a winner.’ ‘I am the greatest.’
(However, if that works for you, don’t let me stop you.)
Try rather to encourage yourself as you would the person next to you.
Think through some of the tips above:
‘I am clear what my area of discussion going to be. I am clear about what my message is. I am giving them the best information to help them come to the right conclusions.’
And to take some of the presentation pressures off:
‘The presentation is about my message, not about me.’
And then just before you start speaking you can move into the more general support with phrases like:
‘I can do this.’ I know my stuff.’ They will want to hear what I have to say.’
Be humble with your audience. Be humble with yourself.
If you feel that some level of deference or respect of status is advisable before seniors, try to avoid open arguments or the tendency to lecture.
And don’t expect too much of yourself. You have a job to do. Do it well.
It is not about being brilliant – that is too much about you.
It is about having a clear message and delivering it well.