5 strategies for delivering a memorable presentationAddressing finance professionals at a conference requires knowledge of your audience, credibility, a great intro, and more.
There may come a time in your career when you will be asked to stand before your peers at a conference to deliver a presentation, comments, or a workshop.
Presenting at conferences and financial meetings is a good way to demonstrate your knowledge as a subject matter expert and advance your career, but for many professionals, public speaking can be intimidating.
Despite being a self-described introvert, Nikki Wild, FCMA, CGMA, is comfortable speaking at conferences — from behind a lectern, though, which separates her from the sea of people in front of her in the audience.
"I find crowds to be draining, but when I'm on stage, I'm separated from the audience and in my own little zone, which I quite like," she said.
Wild, a business and executive coach at Wild Empowerment in Hampshire, UK, is a former practising management accountant, who made the transition to business coaching more than ten years ago.
She and Tony McMurray, FCMA, CGMA, who is managing director at Ingram Micro in Sofia, Bulgaria, and a frequent presenter, provide easy methods for conquering fear and becoming an effective speaker.
Wild and McMurray explain that with preparation, practice, and focus, you can step out of your comfort zone and onto a stage to deliver a polished, professional talk that your audience will appreciate long after you exit the spotlight.
Their advice includes:
Know your audience. The first step in preparing a speech is learning the make-up of your audience, Wild said. If it's a peer group, determine their degree of expertise so you can tailor your talk to their level.
"Find out from the event organiser if the members of your audience have the same technical knowledge, use similar jargon, and generally have the same professional rank, or if you will be speaking to a wider peer group where you may need to explain your points using more common language," she said.
McMurray often speaks before large audiences of more than 1,000 finance professionals, recognising that some of them may not be experts on a particular topic.
"I might be a brilliant speaker, but if I deliver a very technical, 45-minute speech with good slides and they don't understand my topic, I'll lose 80% of them, and I will have failed to do my job," he said.
Establish your credibility. Most audiences, particularly those with finance and accounting expertise, demand credibility from their speakers, McMurray said.
One way to explain why you are qualified to speak on your topic is by providing your personal experience with the subject matter, the work you have done, or the research you have completed, which enables you to speak about it with authority.
Once you have established yourself as a subject matter expert, deliver your speech fluently, expressively, and with confidence, McMurray said.
"If you speak with conviction and communicate how much you care about your topic and your audience, you are more likely to be successful," he said.
Craft a great opening. Whether checking phone messages or returning emails, people often come to presentations burdened with distractions. For presenters, grabbing and holding the audience's attention is one of the biggest challenges they face as they prepare to deliver their remarks.
"If you are in front of a group, it can be cold," McMurray said about the atmosphere. "After your introduction, when you start speaking, you're going to need to bring the audience in with you from the very beginning."
Opening your presentation with an entertaining or intriguing anecdote or initiating interactive exercises, such as asking the audience questions and having them respond by raising their hands, have the power to hook them and reel them in. Another engagement technique is visualisation — asking your audience to close their eyes as you tickle their imagination through colourful storytelling.
McMurray also keeps a few jokes handy in case he feels the situation needs an extra boost.
Connect with your audience online or in person. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a new way of addressing audiences, and Wild said speakers present themselves quite differently on a computer screen than in person.
"Today, the majority of my conference speeches are delivered across Zoom, and I have learned skills and techniques to employ on camera," she said.
For speakers trying to connect with people online, Wild suggests they focus their gaze on the camera to make eye contact with their audience, and not the screen. Whilst looking at the screen allows you to see your online audience, it actually appears to them that you are looking down, which breaks your connection with them.
When delivering a presentation at an in-person event, it's also crucial to connect with your audience. This requires an entirely different technique, Wild said. She recommends focusing on individuals for a few seconds at a time.
However, she warns against staring at people long enough to make them feel uncomfortable.
"Talk directly to each person for a little while, then move to the next person and talk to them and then to the next person, so along the way, you are engaging with them one-on-one," she said.
"This has two effects. It helps keep your audience engaged and makes them feel they matter to you."
Make it memorable. When Wild prepares a speech, she places emphasis on her message, often focusing on one or two key points she wants her audience to remember.
"Whether I'm talking to my audience for an entire day, or I've only got ten minutes and want them to remember just one thing, I make sure that message is seeded all the way through my talk, and I constantly refer to that one point," she said.
McMurray relies on storytelling techniques and often includes a call to action at the end of presentations to reinforce his message, sometimes asking his audience what they would tell someone who asks what they learned from the presentation.
"Leaving your audience with a brilliant storyline and some action items will help them remember what you said long after your presentation is over," he said.
— Teri Saylor is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Oliver Rowe at Oliver.Rowe@aicpa-cima.com.
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