You have been invited to speak at a meeting of your local accounting society or the trade association of one of your firm's largest clients. Of course it's an honor and an opportunity to win recognition for you and your firm, as well an entry point to a new target market niche and path to additional business. But how do you prepare yourself?
We all appreciate presentations that entertain or enlighten, and we seek out and work to become speakers who make their presentation memorable. Likewise, we dread listening to -- or giving -- a presentation that rambles or falls flat. The key to becoming a more effective and confident speaker is practice. Whether you are delivering a keynote address or presenting a technical FASB paper to a small group of peers, the following key principles hold true.
1. Know your audience
Walking in with an off-the-cuff, generic presentation, you risk disappointing or offending an audience and embarrassing yourself, your firm and your host. Determine well before the time of your presentation what concerns or interests your audience members have and tailor your remarks to their specific needs. What do they already know about your topic? Do they know your position on it, your credentials, the reason you are giving the presentation? What are their expectations, how can you address them and how can you meet and surpass them?
2. Rule of Three(s)
Assume you have no more than three minutes in a moving elevator to explain the essence of your presentation. Strip your presentation to three essentials:
3. Set the stage
Even if others are responsible for technical equipment, such as the sound and lighting systems, you can't leave it to chance to check out the acoustics and best viewing angles. Be sure you have adequate space for any props you wish to use. Fumbling with these in front of your audience undermines your credibility and certainly won't calm your nerves.
4. Calm your nerves
A little nervousness is natural and shows you care about doing a good job. But if your nerves start getting the best of you, calm them using these approaches:
5. Know exactly how you will begin
Your audience starts judging and evaluating you within the first few seconds of your appearance. Begin in a compelling way -- with an interesting story or surprising statistic that will draw in the audience. Humor is very effective, but only when done with skill and timing. If you've never done stand up comedy, your presentation is not the place to start.
6. Look great
Dress appropriately and wear clothing in which you are comfortable, something that makes you look and feel good.
7. Meet, greet and network
Take every opportunity to chat casually with some of the audience members or fellow panelists before your presentation.
8. Speak with enthusiasm
Put a good deal of physical energy into your presentation. You are in the spotlight, so use vocal inflection and timing that fits the ideas and stories you are relating. Speak loudly enough to be heard by people in the last row. Inaudibility is the single greatest vocal sin. Nothing is more irritating to participants than having to strain to hear speakers.
9. Be very conscious of your articulation
If you tend to "mush" your words or syllables, slow down a bit and practice hitting those consonants. (Hint: Dr. Seuss books are ideal for practicing this!) Use pauses to let points sink in. A strong well-modulated, enthusiastic voice is one of an accounting professionals' best practice development tools.
10. Most importantly, say what you truly believe
Whatever your subject or audience, your presentation conveys as much about you as it does about your practice, your theories, your proposal or your platform. You are ultimately selling yourself, so make yourself come alive and share with your audience. They will be grateful you did.
Originally published December 20002000, Smartpros Ltd. All Rights Reserved.