Take your presentation skills to the next level

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Even the most experienced public speaker can improve their delivery in person and virtually by using the 5 Ps and Bridging techniques.

Early in your career the thought of standing up in front of colleagues, clients or at an industry event would lead to sweaty palms and an accelerated heart rate as the nerves kick in.

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Presenting gets easier with practice as you learn to control your nerves and remind yourself that you’re an expert on the subject you’re talking about.

During the pandemic, many executives lost their confidence around face-to-face presenting as everything moved online. Virtual presenting has its pros and cons but it is arguably even harder to read the room and be engaging.

This article looks at some advanced skills for in-person and virtual presenting that can help accountants reach their objectives when public speaking by delivering information in a confident and powerful way.

Who is in the room?

Whether you are presenting online or in person, you need to ensure that your slide deck and the information you share is relevant to the people who are investing their time listening to you.

Are you presenting to an internal or an external audience, what is their level of knowledge of the topic, do you need to recap for some people in the room and are you likely to get tricky questions at the end because the audience is particularly knowledgeable?

“You have to prepare your presentation with a ‘why do my audience care about what I am saying’ or a ‘what’s in it for them’ perspective,” says Lucy Morgans, Creative Director at soft skills experts Hendrix Training. “You need to be able to change your presentation and slide deck to suit the audience. Maybe the order of slides needs to change or some slides removed and replaced to be more relevant. If online, maybe add a video to keep people interested.”

Don’t let your body language let you down

Your presentation doesn’t start when you open your mouth or show your first slide. It begins the moment you enter the room or greet people on Teams.

Your audience will be making judgements about you before you speak. When you enter are you looking shy, confident, nervous or in a bad mood?

Presentation trainer Karen Bartholomew says body language shapes initial and final impressions when someone is presenting at work.

“We say more with our bodies than our actual words, and it determines our engagement before we even say a single word,” she says. “Body language reflects our thinking, so a strong mindset is part of generating open and confident impressions. We also need to be ‘present’ and actively listen, being fully aware of our posture, gestures and eye contact. All these contribute to positive first impressions.”

You should walk into a room or to the podium in a neutral way and be confident and professional. Centre yourself with your feet shoulder width apart and stand tall. Imagine a piece of string at the back of your head gently pulling you up, and roots in your feet keeping you steady on the ground. This will help your posture.

Make eye contact with everyone but do not linger on one audience member as this will make them, and you, feel uncomfortable.

Using your voice to best effect

A neutral posture can help unlock your voice and improve how you sound to your audience.

“It allows more breath into the body and enriches the vocal resonance. Small adjustments centre your mind and body and aid a good breathing technique providing vocal support. Posture also affects articulation and clarity and increases confidence in your delivery,” says presentation trainer Karen Bartholomew.

In the acting world, there is what is known as the 5 P’s which can help accountants become more polished presenters.

Pace: Are you speaking too fast or too slow? Are you racing over important points or statistics because you are nervous? If you have a strong accent or English is not the first language for all of your audience, you may need to slow down.

Pausing: Using a pause can add power to your presentation and help to retain the audience’s attention. Take a two-second pause after you say something very important to let it land in the room. Or pause before you make a big announcement to build suspense. Also use pauses in normal speech if you feel you speak too quickly.

Projection: Can everyone in the room hear you? Are you projecting correctly for the size of the room? There are few things more likely to knock your confidence than someone at the back shouting that they cannot hear you.

Power: Don’t be afraid to accentuate and stress certain key words. These might be words linked to your main messages around ‘innovation’ or ‘growth’. Think about which words would be underlined or in bold if you were writing out your presentation.

Pitch: Think about how high or low your voice is, and how it’s impacting your communication and credibility. It is easy for your pitch to falter during the Q&A section if you are feeling uncomfortable. If this happens, remember to take a deep breath into your diaphragm.

How breathing techniques can calm your nerves

Even the most seasoned presenter can feel nervous before making a speech, especially if the audience is an important client or senior colleague.

Proper breath control helps the voice to work more efficiently, it keeps the heart rate even and brings a sense of calm and connection to our bodies.

People who present regularly should work on taking breaths from the diaphragm rather than the lungs. When people get nervous and panicky, they tend to become short of breath. This affects their voice and throat as they struggle to speak effectively and clearly.

To find your diaphragm, put your thumb on your last rib and place your hands on the bottom of your stomach. If you are breathing correctly your shoulders will not move up and down.

“The diaphragm acts like a set of bellows and it is how we breathe when we are born. Watch how a newborn baby’s stomach, rather than their shoulders, goes up and down as they lie on their back asleep,” says Hendrix Training’s creative director Lucy Morgans. “Learners can practise breathing in to their diaphragm and then slowly releasing their breath to counts of 10, then 15 and then 20. This will help them to feel much calmer before and during public speaking, rather than running out of air due to nerves.”

Improve your storytelling

Your audience does not want to watch a boring presentation.

Even a subject you might consider to be relatively dry can be brought to life with some thought during your preparation.

The content of a good presentation does not just talk about ‘what’ is happening or ‘what’ needs to happen. It focuses more on the ‘why’ and the ‘how’.

Thinking about a presentation in this way makes it easier to produce entertaining slides and to talk about real-life examples and consequences.

Think about using more pictures in your slide deck and telling a story around one or two pictures rather than using too much text.

Accountancy has many good stories to tell around helping businesses and finding solutions. Think about case studies (even anonymous ones) that allow you to share experiences and more easily convey your messages. Your examples are your rocks you can cling to during a presentation if you sense your audience is a bit lost on the topic.

Handling tricky questions during the Q&A

The Q&A section is where things can go wrong. You may be polished and confident during your presentation but if you cannot answer a question at the end, that can be the audience’s final memory.

There is an advanced technique used in media interviews which work very well during presentation Q&A’s. It is called Bridging, where you move a negative question onto a positive answer. It is a simple A, B, C, D and E communication technique that requires some practice but which most of us use every day.

A: Don’t avoid the question, but at least Acknowledge that it has been asked. “That’s an interesting way of looking at it…” or “I can see why you might think that…”

B: Use a verbal Bridge to get yourself onto more comfortable ground. “But that is not what we are seeing..” or “However, when you look at how the company has responded in this area…”

C: Communicate one of your positive messages from earlier in your presentation. “We are investing significant sums in this area…”

D: To really convince your audience and be credible you need to Develop your answer.

E: You do this by using an Example which illustrates to your audience that you have actually done what you say. “For example, we have invested extensively in employee training in cybersecurity at work in the past six months and all our staff will have been on the training by the end of the year…”

The Bridging technique helps you to stay in control and remain confident until the very end of your presentation.

Learn about advanced group accounting

AAT is running a mastercourse to clarify the complex area of group accounting, don’t miss out.

Find out more

Steve Hemsley Is a journalist, media trainer, and podcast presenter. .

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