Packaging and presenting ideas: facing the challenge head on (Part 1)

Andrew Grant on Leadership Bootcamp

By Andrew Grant

Middle East Leadership Conference for 2000 people: Daunting or Daring?

I have just returned from delivering a keynote talk in the Middle East to up to 2000 people alongside Stephen Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Bob Nelson (1001 Ways to Motivate People) and Jonas Ridderstrale (Funky Business) as the benchmark co-presenters, who have collectively sold tens of millions of books worldwide. Before I left for the trip, many people asked me if I was nervous. I wasn’t feeling anxious ahead of time, but then I started to wonder if perhaps I should be worried. I was the only unknown speaker thrown in with the 3 biggest names in the industry worldwide. There was a lot at stake.

As the planning progressed I discovered I had the most difficult time slot allocated, which became even more of a challenge once the program had started. Because the speaker allocated to the time slot before mine went over time, on the day I was left to talk to an audience that had not yet had lunch starting at 2:00pm! With all the other speakers having long presentations and the audience expected to concentrate for such long periods as well as being such a large venue so distanced from the speakers, many people in the audience continuously moved in and out and around during the first two speakers’ sessions while others talked most of the way through them.

I should have been feeling very anxious by the time it was my turn to take the stage… but I knew this would be dangerous. Instead I chose to focus on facing the challenge head on and thriving on it. Fortunately, I was able to succeed in channelling my energy into the presentation, and the session was a great success. So successful, in fact, that it actually got the best feedback of the conference: (see more on this )

Executive presentations skills coaching: Relishing the challenges

Directly after my keynote presentation to the large audience I had the opportunity to coach and executive in presentations skills in Singapore. The coachee had been promoted to a position in which she would be expected to sell herself and her ideas to varied audiences regularly. Through identifying her particular presentation strengths and maximising these, along with sharing what I have learnt over the years about organising and sharing ideas in a way that an audience would catch and keep their attention, we were able to see her progress in leaps and bounds after only a few sessions. In the end, she was able to face the challenges she was facing head on and to learn to master the skills she needed.

I had shared in my session something significant I had learnt recently about the importance of preparing to face challenges while watching Serina Williams win another Grand Slam tennis tournament, and afterwards seeing her being interviewed. When it comes to professional tennis players, it has become clear that often very little separates the good from the great in hitting ability. The interview with Serena gave an interesting perspective on the topic. In the interview Serina said that when the big important points come – those that can win or lose the match – she relishes in them and even looks forward to them. Most other players will become anxious and can risk falling apart at that point, while she is able to pull together all the past preparation and experience and channel her energy into facing the challenge head on. But of course this mindset can take a lifetime to develop and train.

It’s one thing to overcome your own nerves, but then how do you coach someone else through the process? It’s important to identify that we can’t simply by-pass the nervous system, but we can learn to focus our nervous energy. When the big points come (presenting to important groups) we can learn to relish the opportunities. We can draw our focus of attention away from worrying about ourselves or our technique and focus instead on what we are aiming for, or ‘where we want the ball to go’. We can channel our energy into controlling this exciting and challenging situation to get the outcome we need to get.

In the sections below I have identified the lessons I’ve learned over the years in the hope that they will be of some use as you learn to face the presentation challenges you may face head on.

The secrets to not being nervous: The behind the scenes preparation

Of course any successes we have aren’t achieved without a lot of hard work.

Accumulating experience: Any success in presenting is due to much more than just the few weeks leading up to a presentation, it is a accumulation of the experience of hundreds or even thousands of hours of presentations in different settings. In my case, I accumulated experience in a range of environments and with a number of different types of audiences over the years: from the teenage years of running youth groups, through to teaching ratty high school students, and then adults in diverse range of contexts from universities to corporate settings. I have also been mulling over the concepts, developing the content, and working on the educational methods that will make my presentations engaging over a number of years.

Practise makes perfect: In preparing for my keynote presentations I literally spend 24 hours a day developing and practicing the talk for the weeks leading up to it to the point that they become second nature through pure immersion. Back in 1985, Benjamin Bloom, a professor of education at the University of Chicago, published a landmark book, Developing Talent in Young People, which examined the critical factors that contribute to talent development. He took a deep retrospective look at the childhoods of 120 elite performers who had won international competitions or awards in fields ranging from music and the arts to mathematics and neurology. Surprisingly, Bloom’s work found no early indicators that could have predicted the virtuosos’ success. Subsequent research has indicated that there is no correlation between IQ and expert performance in fields such as chess, music, sports, and medicine and has reinforced his findings. So what factors do correlate with success? One thing that emerges very clearly from Bloom’s work is that all the superb performers he investigated had practiced intensively, had studied with devoted teachers, and had been supported enthusiastically by their families throughout their developing years. Later research building on Bloom’s pioneering study revealed that the amount and quality of practice were key factors in the level of expertise achieved. Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are made, not born. (HBR)

7 areas to focus on in practice

The key to a successful presentation is to ensure most things become second nature, and minimise all distractions so you can focus on what you are really there for:

  1. Know the outcomes:Know what the group really wants/needs in terms of outcomes, and ensure your overall deliver content and methods will deliver these outcomes successfully
  2. Know your role:Identify what your main purpose is, as this will have a direct impact on how you frame and deliver your presentation –
    1. Train (impart a generic skill)
    2. Give a keynote (unique original perspective)
    3. Facilitate (provide stimulus to encourage the group to discover the answers)
    4. Provide entertainment (as a filler)
  3. Know and prepare your content well:Knowing the content inside out is vital – what you need to say and how you are going to say it so that it flows, relates and captivates.
  4. Understand the process & method of the presentation:Knowing why you are presenting the key point or an activity is vital to transition the smaller steps into one overall outcome. Know what PPT is coming next, the flow, games, activities, background reading on key points / quotes. After each break recap to ensure both you and the audience are on target (ie revise through showing of a video, game , activity)
  5. Believe in what you deliver:Believe you have something constructive to communicate – ensure you have a passion to both teach and learn. It’s not about you, it’s about being able to help others become more aware – you are an educator. Being confident but not arrogant is a tough balance to maintain.
  6. Know the venue:Sit up on stage the night prior, walk it out, sit in the audience and look at the stage, visualise yourself there. Get to know the boundaries, dead spots – pace it out so it’s second nature to be there
  7. Learn to read group dynamics:This will enable you to know when to deviate from your script if necessary to ensure there is audience engagement, and when to drive home the key points

Educate to connect

Last but not least, although a good presenter can often make it look so simple and easy, sound educational methods need to underlie the presentation for it to really connect and engage. “Education results in the learning of something of value that involves knowledge and understanding which is organized into some kind of cognitive perspective, and this learning has been acquired by methods involving awareness and some degree of voluntariness on the learners part.”

A person who is educated has acquired a body of knowledge that is not just a collection of random facts; instead it is organised into some sort of conceptual scheme by which they are able to relate the various pieces of knowledge to each other. Bottom line is that the participant must come to appreciate what they learn, so with an cooperative willing audience, this is relatively easy, but it’s often the big points and tough audiences that matter, and this is what a professional is paid to do. Read more about this

— A mediocre teachers tells
— A good teacher explains
— A superior teacher demonstrates
— A great teacher inspires

Good luck with preparation for your next presentation!

Visit Packaging and presenting ideas Part 2 here >


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