It’s true that presenting your ideas to a room full of colleagues or clients comes more naturally to some than others. Anyone with a tinge of introversion likely finds standing in front of a room intimidating – some of us would rather do anything else than try and establish expertise in a room full of discerning eyes and opinions. For those of us who do not possess this confidence naturally, ArchPoint’s Jesse Edelman and Richard Spoon share advice on strong, positive presentation techniques.

Know your stuff.

Starting with a strong foundation of deep content knowledge is of utmost importance. “Confident subject matter expertise is a must. As consultants, we will never understand a client’s business as well as they do, but we can build credibility by connecting their business to our own experiences, for example how consumers consume or how buyers behave,” Edelman says. “Using examples and analogies helps establish authority on a topic.”

Models can explain concepts and remove specificity from situations to offer an objective view. “Good models help make sense of issues and uncover root causes. Develop or study models that work for you, know them well and be able to use them on a whiteboard,” says Edelman. “When a coach calls timeout at the end of a close game, they aren’t drawing up new plays, they’re just focusing them on one that the team has practiced over and over again. The coach’s job is to figure out how and when to apply them.”

Deep content knowledge cannot be achieved overnight, and we should expect disappointment with our results if we choose to cram for an important discussion. Content knowledge is earned through experience and active interest. “You should really be a student of your topic. You can’t expect to walk in, wing it and be credible,” Spoon says. “Do your research so you are prepared for questions. Content knowledge allows you to never be flustered because you can just be the material.”

“When I was at Procter & Gamble, I had an experience that really stuck with me,” says Spoon. “We were at a sales meeting in an auditorium with 1,000 people, waiting on Bill Burns, a sales leader and process guy. He shows up late, with 50 huge rolls of white butcher paper shoved in a backpack, but confidently walks down the middle aisle directly to the podium completely unflustered. He owned the content at such a level of detail and was so engaged, he established himself as an evangelist, prophesizing to a group of naysayers about the truth. It was something to see and that moment really made an impact on me.”

Owning our material builds both our own confidence and confidence from those in the room. It’s important to distinguish truly owning our material from just being prepared, because sometimes the more “prepared” we appear, the less authentic we seem. Think about the last time you interviewed a job candidate who delivered prepared, canned answers in contrast with someone who answered questions in a genuine, thoughtful manner.

We can, however, prepare by focusing on elements other than our own agenda. Research what is going on organizationally with the people in the room, the situation of their business and the context of the conversation. Remember to look at the material from all angles and anticipate the tough questions before entering the room. Industry reports and competitive analyses can help provide insight and prompt a well-informed discussion.

Remember communication is an exchange.

Consider for a moment if you are a good listener. How often do you find yourself wanting to finish someone’s sentence? Or interrupt someone to give your perspective on the topic at hand? Or zone out when others start speaking?

Practicing active listening builds trust, demonstrates interest and concern and simply makes you more likeable. And while likeability isn’t critical to success, it can certainly provide a leg up. “Restating questions or comments back to the group shows them what they’re saying matters,” says Edelman.

A surefire way to turn people off is to carry an air of superiority. Humility goes a long way in opening other’s hearts and minds to what you are trying to communicate. Don’t make statements to defend or shut people down. Instead, ask questions to clarify. How would you approach this? Can you tell me more about your position? Try to understand why people have opinions to make a personal connection.

“I’ve never gotten anywhere by insulting someone. Focus more on validating the other person’s expertise instead of boosting your own,” Edelman says. “Successful interactions are two-way streets of mutual respect.”

Know when to pivot.

Monitor body language of those in the room. Albert Mehrabian, a pioneer in body language research in the 1950s, found that body language accounts for 55% of personal communication, 38% to tone of voice and only 7% attributed to words.

“If someone looks uncomfortable, they are. If they look at their phone, you’re not connecting with them. Reading body language will help you know when you need to pivot, ask questions and get them talking,” Edelman says.

Adjusting your approach is also necessary when accidentally wandering into sensitive territory. Recovery is found in the process, not the answer. “If someone takes Position A and you’re recommending Position B, go back to what is true – the data and the process,” says Spoon. “Lean on the data rather than opinions.”

If there’s no data to help you course correct, resist the urge to go head-to-head with someone offering a different perspective. “If I know someone is wrong but don’t have any data points to contest their opinion, I acknowledge it and move on. I don’t state my own opinion. Chasing rabbit holes in a group setting when the intent is productive conversation is unnecessary and can be harmful to your credibility. Know when to pick your battles and don’t take on strong personalities in public. The last thing you want to do is embarrass the people to whom you’re presenting.”

Remembering this advice will help you on the path to creating a positive presence when in front of a room.

  • Deeply own your content through research, study and experience
  • Rely on data
  • Trust the process
  • Know your audience to understand context
  • Practice active listening
  • Exhibit humility and respect
  • Know when to adjust the approach by monitoring body language
  • Pivot if you enter sensitive territory
  • Work around combative personalities

Thank you to Jesse Edelman, CEO of ArchPoint, and Richard Spoon, ArchPoint’s Chairman of the Board and President of Management Consulting, for their insight on this piece. For advice to improve your communication as an executive, click here to connect with Jesse or Richard.