From Talking to Speaking to … Presenting

Awhile back, I observed a man give a twenty-minute presentation at a formal event. He leaned one elbow on the podium, making occasional languid gestures, as he meandered his way through his points and finally closed. Luckily, his sense of humor made the talk entertaining and he was presenting to a highly relationship-oriented group, so he managed to get away with his excessively casual style.

In general, though, I don’t recommend this.

It’s an easy trap to fall into, however. In the interest of “keeping it real” and being authentic, we can find ourselves chit-chatting with our audience the way we would talk to an individual person. However, the more people you are speaking to, the more careful you need to be about your presentation skills. Good communication requires adjusting to the needs of the audience. When you present to a group, you have to balance that group: Your presence needs to match the size of your audience; therefore, casual chit-chat doesn’t cut it when you’re in front of a large group.

Most of us, when we open our mouths, just talk. We communicate with the people around us without giving much thought to whether our words and nonverbals demonstrate good presentation skills. For the most part, this is fine! If you spent mental and physical energy on presentation skills every time you said, “Please, pass the peas,” or “It’s hot out today!” you’d be exhausted. (And everyone around you would be, too!)

But when you’re in front of a group you need to do something more than just talk. You are the speaker; you need to speak. When you speak, you weed out all the verbal and nonverbal clutter that detracts from your message. You use words that clearly and concisely articulate your point. You match your body language and voice pattern to your message for maximum impact. You pause and gesture in order to breathe well and emphasize key phrases.

A larger audience isn’t the only time you need to step up from talking to speaking. The importance of your message also plays a role. “It’s hot out today!” doesn’t mean much when you’re just making small talk with the grocery checker. It means a lot more when you’re concerned your kids might get heat stroke. Presentation skills add weight to any message, regardless of your audience.

Sometimes, though, even speaking isn’t enough. When you combine a large audience AND an important message, you need to go beyond speaking. Now, you need to present. To present, first you have to BE present. You must fully inhabit and claim the space in which you are presenting. Secondly, you have to GIVE something (a present) to your audience—namely, yourself. You have to invest your whole self into what you are doing and show up. And thirdly, you have to COMMUNICATE Presence. Everything has to be bigger: bigger gestures, longer pauses, more fluctuation in voice speed and volume, and a wider, more Authoritative stance. Being present, giving yourself as a present, and communicating Presence require a great deal of energy (which is why we don’t do it all the time). But when you are before a large audience with an important message, this is exactly what you need to do to get that message across.

Excellent presentation skills, regardless of scale, aren’t about pretending to be someone you’re not. It doesn’t mean putting on a fake “speechy” voice or using a bunch of meaningless jargon. Whether you’re talking to a coworker, speaking to your team, or presenting to the entire company, you still need to be you. But you need to match the weight of the situation and the message with your Presence. When presenting, you need to be the big, authoritative, powerful you.

Not sure you have it in you? Oh, yes, you do! Go find that side of you and get comfortable with it. You never know when you might have an important message to deliver. Make sure it lands by using excellent presentation skills!

Change your communication, change your life.


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