Larry Tracy is a retired Army colonel turned speech coach. He is writing a series of articles for VIB Network on how to conduct business presentations. He will also conduct a free VIB Network webinar on delivering winning oral presentations for government contracts on April 24.
His recently-published E-book Bring Home the Bacon: Become a Persuasive Leader with the Proven S3P3 System is available on Amazon at $4.99.
Among his briefing-centric assignments was as Senior Intelligence Briefer to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In a later assignment, the White House detailed him to the State Department to debate controversial policy issues throughout the country, resulting in President Reagan hailing him as “An extraordinarily effective speaker.” He can be reached at or through VIB Network.
IT’S NOT JUST WHAT YOU PRESENT:
IT’S ALSO HOW YOU LOOK AND SOUND
By Larry Tracy
Tracy Presentation Skills
An effective presentation is a blending of 1) The intellectual content focused on the informational needs of the audience, and 2) The presenter’s vocal quality/tonality and mannerisms/body language. These “non-verbals” can be positive, which reinforces the content, or negative, which can destroy an otherwise excellent presentation. Think of these negative non-verbals as potholes on the communication highway.
In this brief essay for my fellow veterans, I’ll concentrate on eliminating the negative elements, just as potholes are filled in to prevent blown tires and other mishaps. Following this trio of tips will make you a more effective presenter.
TIP # 1: How to become a better presenter immediately.
Eliminate, or reduce dramatically, “Uh’s, “You Knows,” “You Know What I Mean,” and other abominations of the English Language.
Have you ever attended a presentation in which the presenter continually interjected these “sounds” into his/her message? Chances are after a few minutes you stopped listening to the content and started counting these annoying utterances. Because of these distractions, you did not receive the content you required, and the presenter failed to get the intended message across.
In my workshops, I have participants go through a drill that reduces these “fillers.” l ask each person to deliver a two-minute presentation on any subject. I instruct the other participants to listen carefully, and when they hear “Uh” they are to shout “UH” very loudly.
When they hear “You know,” they are to shout “No we don’t very loudly.
Rarely do the “presenters” come close to finishing their two minutes. We then repeat the exercise, and the number of “Uh’s” and “You knows” are sharply reduced. Moral: You must be aware you are using these verbal “potholes” before you can stop using them
Try it. You’ll automatically become a better presenter.
TIP # 2: STRATEGIC EYE CONTACT
Virtually all books on presentation skills emphasize the importance of “eye contact.” But few if any show how to use it to drive home your main points.
When you are presenting to those higher in the pecking order, initiate your presentation by looking at “the boss” for your opening remarks. The shift your eyes to the next in line for about two sentences. Then back to the boss. Now look at another person for about five seconds, then back to the boss. Now start looking at other people, but always come back to the boss and number two.
You are accomplishing two objectives by setting up this “strategic rhythm:” First, you are showing the boss and the number two you know they are the prime recipients. Second, you are being inclusive by looking for short periods at others, showing they are indeed part of the audience, not eaves-droppers on your private conversation with the boss.
Use this same method when answering questions.
TIP # 3: CONCENTRATE ON YOUR BODY LANGUAGE/VOICE VOLUME /TONALITY (MALE MONOTONE/FEMALE PITCH)
What is generally called “body language” refers to your posture and gestures? There is a gender difference when it comes to voice volume and tonality. Men and women can learn from each other.
Gestures: Using natural gestures shows you are relaxed. (Don’t stand at Parade Rest as you perhaps did in the military.) At the same time, don’t exaggerate your gestures so you appear to be imitating a Televangelist. By using emphatic gestures for key points, you put energy in your voice, countering the tendency for the monotone (see below)
Volume and tonality: Male vocal cords and larynx permit greater volume than those of females, but men are also more prone to the dreaded monotone, which is sleep-inducing. It also can suggest a lack of passion for the issue being presented. Women have a natural gift for inflection, but most tend to speak at a lower volume than is desirable. When speaking to a large group, definitely use a microphone (women and men.) Ask a colleague to sit in the rear of the room to give you a signal to speak louder.
In the next essay for VIB Network, I’ll discuss a practice method which many of you know well, and which I consider the greatest contribution to the speaking art since Aristotle wrote The Rhetoric–the U.S. military’s own Murder Board!