Michelle Morici worked hard to become the global programming manager and training specialist at Goldman, Sachs & Co. A 1996 graduate of Montclair State University, with majors in psychology and sociology, she observes that “I didn’t go to a school that Goldman, Sachs or J.P. Morgan automatically hire from. I worked my way up.”
A native of Camden County, Morici landed her first job at J.P. Morgan by leaving her resume at a career fair. “It was a big deal,” she remembers, “coming from a small town and winding up in New York City on Wall Street.”
Proud of the success she had attained, at J.P Morgan, and more recently at Goldman Sachs, and enjoying her work, Morici, who holds a master’s degree in organizational development from Fordham, made the “painful decision” at the end of last year to leave her job. Her husband, who works for a financial services company, was promoted and relocated and she decided to stay closer to home with her two small children. But she wanted to remain in the workforce to some extent.
Thinking about sharing some of the things she had learned, she looked into teaching possibilities at community colleges. Her Internet searches took her to Mercer County Community College’s noncredit adult education program, where she noticed lots of business courses but, oddly, none on presentation skills. “The one thing people struggle with most in business is speaking in front of people,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve found in research that public speaking is the number one fear — over death and spiders.”
She pitched a course on presentation skills to the community college, and landed a part-time job teaching it.
Morici provides public speakers with the tools to remain cool at the podium when she teaches “Effective Presentation Skills and Public Speaking,” beginning on Wednesday, September 13, at 7 p.m. at MCCC. Cost: $95. To register, call 609-570-3311.
Trepidation in the face of challenges makes some people avoid things they are not good at, but Morici suggests that although the fear is natural, the more you do something, the easier it gets. “You have to try to scare yourself once in a while to get better at things,” she says. With this advice in mind, she suggests several ways to mitigate the anxiety inherent in making presentations:
Be prepared. Do your homework about both your topic and your audience. Think about the topic, limiting it to at most three to five ideas or points. Figure out what your audience already knows and what they need to know, and anticipate their questions.
If you will need support from other staff members, make sure they are present. As a human resources professional, Morici sometimes had to deliver difficult messages to employees. She has had to announce corporate restructurings and the potential elimination of jobs. Before she delivered the news, she rounded up senior people to stand by her side, and to talk about the dot.com industry, profits, revenue, and difficult — but essential — steps to keep the company functioning profitably.
Then Morici presented the facts: what was likely to happen, how the people in the room would be affected, and by what date final decisions would be made.
Structure the presentation. Make sure that your talk has a beginning, middle, and end. Open by engaging the audience. Ways to do this include quoting unexpected statistics, telling a story of personal triumph (or, better yet, tragedy), making a shocking statement, drawing a compelling analogy, quoting a wise person, telling a good joke, and asking a rhetorical question to get people thinking.
All of these ice breakers can work well, but Morici does urge caution about using humor. “Practice first,” she says. A joke may not be funny, or may even be offensive.”
Next lay out your ideas. At the end, recap the key concepts and leave the audience with something to think about.
Develop visuals. Photos, slides, and handouts all have their place. “Any visual doesn’t need to tell the whole story, but should help keep the flow for you and allow people to follow easily,” says Morici. In all cases, proof the visuals, or your audience may amuse themselves by circling typos and passing them around to get giggles from their friends.
Look the part. Fine tune your physical and verbal cues. You want to toe a fine line between engaging members of the audience and distracting them.
One big mistake speakers make, says Morici, is having their appearance speak more loudly than their words. Dress in sequins layered with multi-colored scarves and large pieces or jewelry and it’s a good bet that you will already have provided enough entertainment. Revealingly short skirts, too-tight pants, and ill-fitting plaid suits will have the same effect.
And watch the hand gestures. All speakers use hand gestures to some extent, but waving wildly is not consistent with most of the messages corporate speakers need to impart.
Be aware of your tone. Modulate your voice, speaking at an appropriate volume, says Morici. Don’t be afraid to pause, but if you do, be careful not to use filler words like um, uh, or so. And, finally, make sure that the language you use suits your audience: avoid jargon and acronyms with people who won’t understand them, and avoid local idioms with international audiences.
Make eye contact “People know where you’re looking,” says Morici. Don’t look at the back wall, but don’t scan the audience either. “Make it a point to look at different people and really focus on each one. It shows calmness.”
Morici says that it all comes down to practice, practice, practice. “First do a dry run in a safe environment,” says Morici. “Get together people — whether it be family members, friends, or colleagues — who can give you really good feedback.” Then use that feedback. Practice all over again incorporating the suggestions.
The effort will pay off, not only in promotions and in happy audiences, but also in fewer nightmares and a marked decrease in pre-presentation butterflies.