Michelle Bowden

Why presentation skills are so important to your career success

As someone who has trained thousands of people in persuasive presentation skills over much of the past two decades, anyone can be an exceptional presenter. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do and doing it.

Most of us have had the experience where a business meeting just goes wrong. Where the presenter either didn’t grab your attention from the start or where they lost control of the presentation at some stage.

But the real question is, have you ever been the presenter who delivered a ‘less than successful’ business presentation or pitch for your services? Have you ever facilitated a meeting that ended in your client or colleagues walking out at the end, busting to get back to work, with no intention whatsoever of implementing anything you have just talked to them about? Have you ever pitched in business and afterwards felt terrible, because you know deep down that there is no way your potential client feels compelled to engage in a business partnership with you in any way, shape or form? At the time, it feels like the meeting was a huge waste of time for you, for them and for your business.

Interestingly, most people think of presenting as something separate from life; as something we only do when there’s a lectern, some slides and an audience. But just because you don’t have to make big pitches to a board or represent your company at an industry conference doesn’t mean you don’t present to people. We present to people with the intention to influence them every single day. We present to our colleagues, our staff or managers, our suppliers and potential clients. You are presenting yourself every day at work whether you realise it or not, and presentation skills are critical when you are trying to get ahead in business.

The more successful entrepreneurs I meet, the more I realise that regardless of their intelligence and business acumen, regardless of their excellent products or service and regardless of their commitment to their business, these successful people have one thing in common. They know how to present their ideas in a compelling, influential and memorable way. They know how to structure their thoughts, how to connect with people, and they say what they want to say in a way that resonates with their audience. They inspire and compel their audiences to take action!

Let’s be clear on what is meant by presenting

I believe presenting is any form of communication with another person (including face to face, over the phone, by email or through the internet), from one-on-one, to small and large groups. And I believe we present both formally and informally. In short, most people in business present regularly every single day of their life.

Presenting is about connecting with people through the words you choose to say and the way you choose to say them. When you present you show people who you are and how you can help them. It’s an opportunity to step up and be noticed for what you can offer. Presenting provides a unique opportunity for you to showcase your professional expertise and accelerate your career.

It doesn’t matter how good your message is if no one’s listening

You may have thought that you were just running another team meeting, but your team members that morning were hoping it would be a motivational event that would encourage them to work harder and not apply for that job with your competitor.

You may have thought that this was just another prospective client as you answered the phone to convert the business – but this ‘potential client’ has already spoken to your three closest competitors as they shop around for the best solution to their problem.

You may have thought that you were just a small part of the picture, just the technical expert with the graphs and charts, but the client was watching the way you presented your information with a plan to refer you to their biggest supplier.

You may have thought you were just answering another email inquiry that came through your website contacts page, but the person inquiring actually turned over millions of dollars this year and absolutely needed long-term financial advice. The minute you connected with them they were judging your interpersonal skills.

Presentation skills really matter

In case you’re not yet convinced, in a business context, audience members or clients will typically give you less than five minutes to prove yourself before completely switching off.

My research in Australia (conducted with over 800 employees from small, medium and large businesses) has found that if you are an effective business presenter, you are in the minority. When asked about workplace presenters they had seen in the last 12 months:

– Only 38 per cent of respondents thought presenters understood their needs as a client.

– More than half the respondents said that presenters generally read from their PowerPoint slides.

– Only 40 per cent of respondents found presenters to be engaging.

– Only 28 per cent of respondents said that they were moved to action after seeing presenters.

So what does all this mean?

It means we are typically going to too many boring meetings and workplace presentations where the presenter is not enjoying themselves, and the audience is enjoying themselves even less! It’s critical you remember that anyone can be an exceptional presenter. It’s just a matter of knowing what to do and doing it.

Every important presentation should be planned, and the good news is that the more practised or accomplished you are at crafting your message, the more efficient and productive you will become.

Michelle Bowden, managing director, Michelle Bowden Enterprises

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