Conducting presentations is one big mind-game. I believe it is the mind-games that presenting plays on us that makes presenting the number one fear in America in study after study. Just google “America’s #1 fear” to see my point. I therefore believe that the mindset of the presenter is what will determine the success or failure of a seminar presentation. A lot like the statistic that 85 percent of a person’s financial success is determined by their “soft skills” versus technical knowledge,1 I believe that 80 to 90 percent of a person’s success in delivering a seminar presentation is determined by the presenters mindset. So, allow me to address different areas of “mindset” that are of huge importance.
Preparation: Practice How You Play
I was rehearsing an important presentation out loud in my office when my 10 year old son walked in. He asked, “Daddy, why are you talking to yourself?” I then told him I was preparing for an important talk that I had to give to 400 financial professionals. He said, “But it seems stupid you are talking to yourself.” This was one of those opportunities for me to get on my fatherly soapbox! So I did. I said, “Seth, most of life is about preparation. Remember how I tell you when you are practicing basketball alone that you need to quit just going through the motions slowly and instead pretend there is somebody guarding you? And I also tell you to practice how you play? This is the same thing. I am practicing exactly in the same manner in which I am going to play.” He then said, “What does talking to yourself have to do with basketball?” He clearly missed the point!
Per my column from last month, the PowerPoint deck should be very little of the total time you put into the “preparation” phase. To me, preparation is rehearsing. A lot of people have this backwards-they spend more time on the PowerPoint slides than the rehearsing. As mentioned, don’t fall victim to that.
I joke a lot that for every new presentation I do there is that poor man or woman in the adjacent hotel room that heard my talk at least five or six times at 4:00 or 5:00 a.m. the morning of my talk. Rehearsing out loud is crucial. I stress out loud because even though the words and the flow may sound smooth while rehearsing silently, it can be a night and day difference when the words are actually coming out of your mouth. Your brain works at a much different pace than your vocal cords and your tongue. Just like a drummer works at a different pace than the singer. Thus, the importance of rehearsing out loud; so the drummer (brain) can be in tune with the singer (vocal cords and tongue). Do you think the members of a band rehearse separately from one another? No way.
A very large chunk of my preparation is spent on the first five to ten minutes and the last five to ten minutes of the presentation. Why is this? Well, this is where I would like to introduce you to two behavioral finance concepts: “Primacy Bias” and “Recency Bias.” Primacy bias is the first impression. This is formed in the audience’s mind within seven seconds of you opening your mouth. This “first impression” has such a powerful effect that if you do poorly in the first five minutes of the presentation, it will likely scar much of the remaining presentation in the audience’s mind. You need to knock it out of the park in the opening! Conversely, what is Recency Bias? This is our tendency to remember what happened last more so than the other parts of the presentation. This is the ending of our presentation. Spend a disproportionate amount of time on the opening (Primacy Bias) and also the closing (Recency Bias).
By rehearsing (out loud) to the point where you have done one full presentation to yourself that flowed well, had the right pauses, right energy, right content, etc., you will knock it out of the park. Most important, you will have the confidence that you cannot be phased when it is time to deliver!
“One important key to success is self-confidence. An important key to self-confidence is preparation.” -Arthur Ashe
I don’t care how long you have been in the business and how many presentations you have done, if you believe you are good enough that you do not need to rehearse every now and then, then I would encourage you to compare your presentation to one of someone who does rehearse. You will see a difference.
Embrace the Butterflies
I read a great book about Navy Seals (Way of the Seal, Mark Divine) that discussed the Seal mindset when approached with situations that “suck.” Divine says the Seals have a way of “Embracing the Suck,” where sometimes he would even laugh at tough situations and try to find humor in situations that would kill anybody else. Many people view being nervous before presentations as a bad thing. I believe that being nervous can have a positive impact on a presentation. As a matter of fact, the positive effect of being nervous is a chemical and biological fact, not something I am speaking about theoretically. Our Maker has given us something called adrenaline, which is a blessing! Let’s discuss. We have something at the base of our brain called the pituitary gland. This gland is also known as the “master gland” which controls all of our endocrine glands, including the adrenal glands which sit on top of each of our kidneys. When we get nervous the pituitary gland instructs the adrenal glands to secrete a hormone into our bloodstream called adrenaline. Adrenaline actually increases our glucose levels, dilates our blood vessels, increases our heart rate, and increases blood flow to our crucial organs. You can feel all of this happening by that “butterfly” feeling in your stomach. Well, all of this can actually make you perform better than you would without it! Have you ever been very nervous prior to an event and then went on to perform at a level above and beyond what you would have ever dreamed imaginable? Whether presenting or playing sports? This is the “fight or flight” effect of adrenaline that makes us superior to our “non-nervous selves” and allowed us to survive the saber toothed tiger back in 12,000 BC. The point is: Embrace the nerves, breathe deep breaths and channel that adrenaline in the right direction!
As you are walking up on stage the number one thing you should have in your mind is almost a verbatim “script” of the first couple of sentences of your talk. Once you have successfully articulated those first couple of sentences, your nervousness will have gone down significantly and your preparation/training will then kick in. Furthermore, after the first couple of sentences that very important first impression mentioned earlier would have already been formed in the minds of the audience. The opening determines everything! Embrace the butterflies!
I believe the core mindset variable that determines your success or failure in this mind-game of presenting is confidence. If you went to a doctor and he was a little wishy washy as he was presenting a diagnosis of your illness, or they weren’t really confident as they were explaining a cure for your illness, you would likely seek a second opinion. People sense confidence, or a lack thereof, and reflect it back to you in a positive or negative manner. This is the case whether presenting to a large group or having a one-on-one conversation. Thus, confidence is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you come across as confident to the audience (even if you aren’t confident), your audience will feel this confidence and reflect positive body language back to you which in turn creates confidence in your own mind. Now, if for whatever reason you do not feel confident, the term “fake it till you make it” has some truth here because of that self-fulfilling prophecy. Say you are starting out dating again, your confidence may be at an all-time low, however, there are ways you can build that up and not just mentally. Using pheromones for men and women can help you attract and promote that confidence you’ve been lacking, your date will see that in you and be intrigued.
How does one project confidence? Well, as mentioned, the number one item that builds confidence is preparation. Again, preparation is everything-but in addition I would like to provide a couple of thoughts to help you build your confidence or at least the projection of confidence.
The Presenter’s Edge
Lack of confidence can come because the devil in your ear is telling you that your audience knows more about the topic than you do. It also comes from being humble. Some of the most talented people I know normalize excellence. Meaning if they knew that they were as great as they actually are, they would be much more confident than they are. To that end, you always need to remember that you are presenting on the topic for a reason. You are in this position of authority because you know this topic well. If you have prepared adequately you should know that, if for no other reason, because you prepared more than any members of the audience did you know more about the topic at hand. There will always be one or two people in the room that know the topic as well or better than you do and that is OK. In short, tell yourself that you are worthy of this, you are there for a reason, and that the audience is going to like what they are about to hear.
In my prior life I did a lot of “media tours,” where I would go to Wall Street and get on some of the financial shows to educate the audience on financial matters. In preparation for this I did “PR Training” with a PR firm in New York so they could fine tune how I presented myself on camera. Anyway, this PR firm said something that has always stuck with me. They said, “Charlie, remember to be Half-Caff! This is the notion that in front of an audience and in front of a camera you should not speak the same as you would in a casual conversation. You bring the volume of your voice up a little more and you slightly exaggerate your body language. Almost where you feel you are halfway loaded up on caffeine. And, if you feel just slightly outside of your comfort zone in speaking this way, that is probably about right.” I took it and ran with it and it works! If you have somebody that seems “half-caffeinated” up on stage, will you question whether he or she is lacking in confidence? Not usually. Conversely, somebody who talks quietly and lacks positive body language will be more likely to appear not confident. If the audience perceives a lack of confidence the presentation goes into a death spiral, because that lack of confidence is also a self-fulfilling prophecy to the presenter.
1. Jensen, Keld-Contributor. Intelligence Is Overrated: What You Really Need To Succeed. Forbes article APR 12, 2012 Web. 8 March 2017.
This material is intended for educational purposes only. For financial professional use only. Not to be used for consumer solicitation purposes. You should not treat any opinion expressed by Charlie Gipple as a specific inducement to make a particular investment or follow a particular strategy, but only as an expression of his opinion and experiences.
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