Leadership Skills: Presentation Skills

In my Monday tradition, I’m posting the blogs that have received the most attention. Here’s one that rings true!

The Leader is a Skilled Presenter – Like a Musical Conductor

Leaders always show, as the leader, whether or not their role is to be in charge. When the leader is in charge, the role of leader includes advanced presentation skills. Having a vision is a part of leadership. Being able to communicate the vision is demonstrating competency in leadership.

Sometimes these presentation skills are needed to address a large audience. Sometimes leaders only address one person. Either way, presentation competency is essential in being a person of influence. We impact others through our personal influence, and not by power of position.

The leader, as presenter, shows up in many types of situations, such as staff meetings, company presentations, employee evaluations, sales presentations, and a plethora of other opportunities to engage others and influence their actions and decisions. A leader is a person of influence – always. There is no “time off” from being the leader.

I participated in a full-day choir workshop with my friend, Tadd Sipes, as guest presenter. Tadd taught about good vocal production skills for singers. Each principle applies to leaders speaking, as well.

During this presentation, I learned about being better as a choral singer. I also reframed those principles for the leader as presenter. Even if there is not an opportunity or requirement to be a public speaker on important stages, there are opportunities to be a capable speaker in every situation.

I came up with some ideas for presentation skills for leaders, inspired by Tadd’s teaching, however, he can’t be blamed. Here are some principles to consider when preparing to share information or conduct a meeting:
  • Finding Poise: Find your alignment. Your feet are like a camera tripod. The balance of the three points provides stability as we stand in front of a group. We don’t always stand, however, standing is always a preferred posture. James Jordan, in his writing about best practices for choral conducting, calls this being centered. It’s Balance in my leadership principles – one form of the balance dynamic.
  • Breathing: Yes, we all know how to breathe, however, some of our habits interfere with our message. Breathe when anxious to relieve some stress. Breathe before and after a major point in the presentation. Breathe deeply to make sure that your brain is functioning and you are thinking.
  • Vocal Placement: An annoying vocal tone is distracting. A soft, unfocused tone makes it difficult to follow any presentation. Improper vocal placement can be perceived as lack of confidence. Here are some basics: lift your sternum, breathe from the diaphragm, and project. Also, do not let your voice trail off at the end of sentences or phrases. Every word has integrity.
  • Personal Presence: Be sure to come out from behind a lectern or table. Eliminate any barriers between you and your audience – even if you are presenting to only one person. Look people in the eye. Pay attention to what’s going on in the room. The bigger the audience, the faster they will turn on you. Watch for clues, and adjust your presentation style or content as necessary.
In light of those principles, I developed a list of ‘P’ words to focus on when preparing and presenting:
The ‘Ps’:
  • Poise: This is more than being confident. Stand tall, centered, and with your weight equally distributed. Face those in your audience.
  • Posture: Standing tall is an assertive position, however, that assertive presence can be minimized with defensive gestures, such as things you do with your hands – crossed arms, hands that fidget, or hands on your hips. Use hands for gestures that mean something. In short, adopt a posture that commands the space and brings your audience to you.
  • Preparation: Don’t “wing it.” Write a script, read it aloud, rehearse and time it, then put it away. Be sure of your timing in the presentation, and know where to cut if it goes too long. Remember that it always takes longer than planned, so prepare for adjusting when needed.
  • Presence: You can be on stage and not be present. Presence is a state of mind, as well as physical presence. Be engaged with your audience. Don’t read the script – either on paper or on your eyelids. Especially, do NOT read your slides! Face your audience, and never face or talk to the slides.
  • Projection: Great content is worthless unless people can hear and understand it. Get coaching from a singing coach. Learn about breath control and vocal technique.
  • Placement: Good voice placement means that you have warmed up your voice and that you have rehearsed proper vocal placement. A placement that’s too resonant or too snarly can either be annoying or difficult to hear. Visualize a cone like the one Edison used on his Victrola. Invert the cone so that the small end is away from you and towards the audience. Visualize a focused tone delivered by you through that small hole in the cone.
  • Pronunciation: As I said – every work has integrity. If you have difficult words, know how to pronounce them. Do not compromise your presentation by being lazy with your diction. Rehearse tongue twisters on a regular basis so that you become better and better at your delivery.
  • Prominence: Do not stand behind a lectern. It creates a barrier between you and your audience.
  • Pictures: Use pictures on PowerPoint slides instead of words. Sometimes use words.
  • Pitch: Be aware that, when under stress, the usual tendency is that the stress causes a higher-pitched vocal tone.
  • Pace: Make sure that the rhythm and pace of the presentation is varied by the nature of the content or the mood.
  • Pause: When asking a question, wait 10 seconds for the listeners to formulate a reply.

Hugh Ballou

The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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(c) 2012 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.


Information on Tadd Sipes: (general and blog)
Hugh Ballou (Author)