As leaders, we are required to convey information verbally. It may be good news, bad news, to cast a bold vision for the future, or simply offer a ‘good morning’ welcome. Often, the way we communicate speaks louder than what we have to say; if our communication skills are weak, then we may be perceived as a weak leader; and, the opposite can also be true. Ineffective communication skills can make a good leader appear weak in the eyes of those he leads, while strong communication skills may help a leader overcome other leadership weaknesses. I’ve selected 4 primary practices to make any leader/communicator more effective. These practices are psychological and physiological in nature, and if practiced regularly, will improve the delivery of your content as well as increase the potential for those to whom you lead to hear, understand, and do what you want them to do. The 4 practices we’ll discuss in this series are:
We’ll deal with the first practice in this post, and the other three will be covered in future posts.
Often the most overlooked and underutilized practice leading to effective communication is preparation. I have learned that most people who have a communications responsibility are generally bright, well-read, and informed people. And generally, they possess the ability to speak “off-the-cuff” in a comfortable manner that usually is sufficient. That type of communicate will work well in small groups, or in groups where the audience is allowed to participate. On a small scale, that slight amount of preparation mixed together with a great deal of charm and an easy intelligence can be effective. In a large group or keynote setting…. not so much.
Preparation is the single key that gives you freedom in your presentation; proper preparation will allow your presentation to come alive and allow you to build relationships with your audience.
What is Proper Preparation?
The challenging part of any presenter’s preparation is to know when enough is enough. Rather than discussing three popular theories of preparation, let me offer my view (since this is my blog) and you can decide for yourself.
I like to refer to preparation as occurring in stages, or levels. Let’s build a mental image:
LI: Your outline is only 6 points; 5 minutes per point. You have written your outline and fleshed out each point. Each point is a page in length. This is Level I preparation- the least amount of acceptable preparation. You can read your presentation right off the page. But you will lose your audience because…. they can do the same, and faster…. and drink a soda at the same time… on their couch in their living room. Not enough preparation to justify their time to hear you read.
LII: You have practiced enough that you can recite your outline and most of each point from memory. You begin to feel some freedom of expression in your presentation at LII, but you still refer to your notes for more than half of your presentation. Level II leaves you looking a bit unprepared as well as tentative and not quite convincing.
LIII: Now, you can recite your entire presentation from memory with no mistakes, but you must maintain a singular concentration to do it. Your audience will be impressed that you are not using notes, or even a podium or stand. You’ll deliver well, but with a bit of mechanical feel because you are focusing on recalling your content more than you are focusing on communicating with your audience. You may find that you are even less comfortable communicating with this level of preparation, because you are intentional about not using notes. Most presenters hope to eventually be able to present without notes, but I propose a fourth level of preparation is better still….
LIV: This level of preparation offers the most comfort, the most transparent communication, and the strongest audience connection possible. You know you can present without notes; no big deal. But at LIV, you know your content so well that not only can you recite it from memory, you can present it while hoola-hooping while riding a unicycle. Well, maybe not, but your outline and content draft lie just under the surface of your consciousness. Each point can now be delivered in freedom, almost in color and with a flurry of activity. You know the material so well, that you can’t not get it right. With this level of preparation comes a freedom to communicate with your audience that allows you to build genuine relationships with your audience, rather than impress them with your oratory skills. You may become distracted, but you can easily find your place and your pace and continue.
When your presentation is over, you have stayed within your time frame and have built a roomful of relationships. LIV is where the relationships of trust and understanding are built. If you can build those relationships, you are a successful presenter. Add Keynote Speaker to your LinkedIn profile.
PS: Yes, some argue that you can over prepare, and your presentation becomes flat and mechanical. That can be true; the real difference that separates an invigorating presentation from the mechanical is the why– why do you speak? To gain notoriety? To build your brand? Or do you speak to offer people information that will make their lives better? To build relationships that carry past this meeting? To promote a quality of life?
OK, so I’ll ask…. Why do you speak?
Next time: Posture