Improving your presentation skills

Whether you’re working through a fix with a customer as a support analyst, negotiating for greater budget as a technology leader, or proposing a technical solution to a business problem as an IT solution vendor, you are presenting. Your goal in any presentation is to build genuine trust with your audience and then leverage that trust toward mutually-successful outcomes. You fix the problem and have a happy customer leave you a 10 out of 10 on a feedback form. You sell your product and turn your customer into a champion who goes on to refer many of their contacts to your company.

One of the most effective ways to build trust is to speak from the place your audience speaks from instead of from your own.

One way to speak from the place your audience speaks from is to understand their language and make it your own. The benefits of speaking a shared language are researched and well-documented far better than I can do here. Instead, I offer some simple tips that I follow to drive maximum value:

  • Learn about your audience. In Support this can mean looking at the customer’s information in your company’s database. In Sales you may reference LinkedIn and other tools. In Marketing consider building an understanding of your different ideal customers, also known as creating “personas”.
  • Keep your words simple. Simple words are often the most successful.
  • Avoid expressions, idioms, other “local” language, but adapt to your audience where possible.
  • When you must use jargon, start from your audience’s language.
  • Challenge your audience to share in your language as you share in theirs.

A practical example where we can combine the last two points to greater effect is to use your audience’s language on one slide and immediately follow that with a slide that only contains your own relevant jargon. This leverages your audience’s perspective to guide them to your own. In this way you can successfully move to a shared language.

Edit, edit, edit. Whether you are writing, presenting from slides or a whiteboard, or speaking on the fly, you can edit. Sometimes you’ll only be able to edit forward, for example in tech support you may not speak with that same customer again but you can edit forward by reflecting on that conversation in order to identify improvements for your next conversation with the next customer.

If you feel weak at editing, consider engaging with people and brands on Twitter, where you are locked to 140 characters. I’ve got 20 years of creating and presenting business and technical content for internal and external audiences. 6 to 12 months of engagement on Twitter were all that was needed to change not just my language but the reception of my writing and my speaking. Enforced brevity is a powerful educational tool!

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