Death by PowerPoint: It’s a common business fatality. The speaker shuffles onto stage, immediately darkens the room, and rapidly runs slide after text-laden slide past the audience’s eyes until he has virtually killed every soul in the hall with boredom.
It would all be somewhat funny if vital business information had not been lost and valuable time had not just been wasted.
Eileen Sinett, CEO of Plainsboro-based Comprehensive Communication Resources, insists that such fatalities are completely avoidable, and that well crafted presentations can be your most effective sales tool. In her talk, “Secrets for Getting New Clients from Speaking Engagements,” on Monday, March 16, at 5:30 p.m. at the Marriott-Forrestal in Princeton, she details several of the finer methods and techniques to employ for all types of presentations. Sponsored by the New Jersey Chapter of the Institute of Management Consultants, the event costs $50. Visit www.imcnj.org.
Sinett is the coach you go to when that all-important speech is staring you in the face. The eldest of seven, Sinett grew up in the home of a serial entrepreneur father, who, as she puts it “always had some new business filling our house.” From this stimulating training, Sinett progressed to Emerson College, earning a bachelor’s in speech pathology and audiology, followed by a master’s in speech correction. Starting at Roosevelt Hospital, Sinett soon worked her way up to director of communication services at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, where she trained both staff and students.
Stepping out on her own in 1979, Sinett founded Comprehensive Communication Services, Inc. just when corporate business leaders began seeing the value of effective speaking. Today Sinett mentors executives and teams for such clients as Johnson and Johnson, Merck & Company, and Mathematica Policy Research.
“Like or not, you are always presenting yourself,” says Sinett. “Most of us never realize how often we are called upon to talk about ourselves and our business. Each of these is a client-winning opportunity.”
Gauging the pitch. Setting, time, and audience control what the speaker says. The goal of any presentation is to communicate your advantages in a way the listeners will best appreciate. Sinett lists three basic pitch situations, each demanding its own preparation.
— Formal presentation. The speaker is given a defined topic, fixed time, and typically a podium style setting. It may be a keynote address. Here, the use of notes and a script are fine. Ideally, the speaker swiftly connects with his audience, delivers the central concept, amplifies it with examples, then comes back to his initial theme.
Organization and clarity are key. Each sentence should flow logically from the one before it. Replace jargon with fun and impressive analogies, such as, “This toxin is strong enough for one tablespoon to poison Lake Carnegie.”
— Informal talk. This could be a report before a project team or at a networking dinner. Tone should be conversational. Connecting with the audience through dialogue and participation is a good method, and have answers to FAQs ready.
— Incidental. You bump into someone in the elevator, church, or a convention hall. This person could be a client, if you present yourself expertly. Body language, a smile, and a memorized, rehearsed introduction will set your best face forward. Don’t make it a stilted, canned routine, though. Just have the carefully crafted words ready to flow out smoothly.
Rules of engagement. The old maxim holds true with business presentations: Before a seller sells any product, he must first sell his trust. “When you initially get up before that audience, these are your golden two minutes,” says Sinett. “No slides, no handouts, no dark room. Stand before these people as just yourself, and engage them with your personality and essence.”
Once the listeners are won over to you, they will pay far greater attention to the message. The primary rule of engaging the audience is to be present with them, in that moment. Make them feel that they, not the speech, are the most important thing in your life for this time.
The easiest and best tool for connecting with audiences, of course, is the eyes. Time your looks with your phrases, pausing at one spot, then moving around the room. In incidental meetings, looking directly, and only, at the individual with whom you’re conversing truly makes you memorable. Nothing is more annoying than that inattentive hand shaker who talks while furtively scouring the room for better prospects.
Body language does not lie. The speaker who stands and moves easily, smiles genuinely, gives the impression he is happy to be there. Defensive postures such as hiding hands, pacing, and plastering on forced smiles will burn only your nervousness, not your message in the audience’s minds.
Question periods at the talk’s end allow a final opportunity to connect. “Be careful here not to focus solely on the questioner, to the exclusion of the audience,” warns Sinett. Instead, if the hall is more than 20 people, repeat the question out loud, then move your gaze across the room as you answer.
Pie charts and handouts. Opposition used to snicker at President Clinton trying to nationally drive home his points with colorful charts, but sometimes visuals do clarify and intensify a point. Sinett says, “PowerPoint or visuals are not a requirement. They should be used sparingly, and not become a speech-substitute.”
A few helpful techniques: First, never start off with the visuals. Begin by speaking, then bring them on later. Secondly, keep the text short, their wording separate from your talk, and the points per slide limited to three. Have something funny verbally or visually to keep folks awake in this darkened hall.
Likewise, handouts offer audiences an excellent, tangible way to make your message memorable. “Yet always make them a leave-behind, passed out at the end of the talk,” says Sinett. “Papers handed out before or during a talk only compete with you onstage.”
Good vs. bad and ugly. Spot the errors in this presentation: The speaker ambles onstage, head down, paces across the stage, hands in pockets, flashes an instantly fading smile, and announces “Hello, I’m Mr. Dubious Jones, from accounting, as most of you know, and I’m here to talk about…” He then pulls out his terrifyingly large sheaf papers, and gives his speech. And even though he is not reading it, his eyes never lift from the paper.
Here is a man who would rather face the dentist drill than you. His bland opening is not only wasting your time, but indicates an offensive lack of preparation. The final audience insult was one Sinett witnessed recently at a speech made by a nationally known politician (not the president). His eyes seem to require that speech paper for security. Yet his effect would have been much improved, even with a few misspeaks, if he had engaged his audience.
The next speaker walks easily onto the stage, carefully and neatly dressed. The slight smile, eyes glancing across the room, a slow lift of one hand all set a mood of anticipation: “We didn’t really make it this quarter. But let me tell you why and how we’re going to remedy that in the upcoming months…” This speaker has just blown a refreshing wind of honesty through the hall. He has gotten his theme across, and the audience wants to hear more.
Sinett coaches her clients that it all comes from within. Justify the confidence in yourself first, and it will naturally flow out to everyone, be it the board of directors or the guy in the elevator. And of course, a little coaching, and a lot of rehearsing really give the edge in bringing the clients home.