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Take Charge of Your Presentations

How To Make Powerful Executive Presentations

In my last post, I wrote about how you build and strengthen your personal brand– to set you apart as a leader and on the ladder to professional success. Another powerful way to build your brand is to develop strong presentation and public speaking skills.

If that makes you shudder in anxiety, you are not alone. Very few people are naturally good at delivering a public message. It takes work – coaching, practice, knowing your material and most importantly, your audience.

Five Tips to Make More Impactful Presentations:

1. Focus on the audience: The message may be important, but focus first on the audience. Who are you speaking to and what do they need to hear from you. Remember the WIIFM principle where audience members are typically thinking ‘What’s In It for Me?’ As speech expert Steve Brown notes: “Generally, people are more interested in themselves than they are in you.” Keeping this in mind, tailor your choice of topic and your choice of language for your audience. For example:

  • If your audience is the CEO key interest areas are innovation and competitive position

  • If you’re speaking to the board, they typically want to learn about risk, forecasting, and market position

  • The CMO wants to hear about the competition, brand impact, market share, and new ways to attract customers

  • When talking to your own team members, they want to know how the company is performing and what they can do to personally help the company achieve its goals

  • Where applicable, speak with the meeting organizer earlier and ask if there are key areas where they believe you should focus. Where possible, single out individuals in the audience and mention their name and how they have helped you or are involved in the subject of your talk.

2. Have a powerful opening: Research indicates that audiences decide within the first twenty seconds of your opening, whether they will continue to listen to you. If you think they are tuning out, turn the tables on them and ask them a question or involve them in your talk through audience participation. I’ve found this quickly brings them back to attention.

3. Less is not just more, it’s the best: Boil your message down to three to five key points and focus on the most critical items for that timetable and for that audience.

  • If you are a technical person, don’t be tempted to throw out a lot of information at once to your non-technical audience.

  • If the subject matter is very technical, try to schedule one-on-ones with key audience members to give them an opportunity to digest the information and ask questions beforehand in a non-threatening setting. This also gives you an opportunity to ask directly for their support of your initiative prior to the presentation. I’ve found this is a good way to solicit supporters.

4. It’s not just words, but also the delivery and body language: Even the most exciting message can be lost if delivered in a monotone or a voice devoid of any emotion. Your responsibility as a speaker is to spend as much time working on your delivery and visual impact as the speech itself.

Research has shown that non-verbal communications is far more important than the words themselves. In a study conducted by UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian, he assigned a 7% value to the choice of words in face-to-face communications, while tone of voice had a 38% value and facial expressions at 55%. So, make sure you bring energy into the presentation. This is most often demonstrated by varying the tone of your voice and in movement of your body. Stand up straight and demonstrate your best posture.

I recommend recording yourself doing a practice run and watching it at least twice – once without sound, to focus on what the audience is seeing and once just listening to the tone of your voice.

Practice, practice and more practice…. makes perfect.

5. Ask for feedback after the presentation: After the presentation, ask for feedback from one of the organizers or someone whose opinion you value. Ask them for one or two things you need to do to make this message more powerful. Listen and incorporate the constructive feedback into your next talk. This is especially helpful when you have to present the same topic to multiple constituencies.

I’ve made the transition from frightened to confident speaker because I was given the excellent advice to frame my thinking: public speaking is a learned skill, and anyone can learn it and become adept at it. You must simply DARE to put yourself out there… and get the needed experience.

How did you improve your presentation skills? Share your tips here or@Becky_Blalock on Twitter.

Becky Blalock is a C-Suite I.T. Executive, Thought Leader, Board Member, Speaker, and Author. Her best-selling book DARE: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge is available on

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