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When You Talk, do People Listen?

Business savvy professionals might be wary of what comes out of Wall Street these days but in the early '80s, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who wasn’t familiar with E.F. Hutton’s catchy advertising slogan, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” The one thing that hasn’t changed between then and now is that getting people’s attention is contingent on not only what you say, but how you say it. If you want to command attention and get people to listen to you, you need to prepare twofold:  structure and package your messages so they’re influential and polish your presentation skills. Whether you’re keynoting a conference, leading a team meeting or pitching business to a potential client, speaking in public is part of the agenda for nearly every business professional. Leaders who master the art of powerful presentations, whether to large groups or in small meetings, are able to captivate, engage, inspire and influence others - and they are far more likely to experience greater success than those that cannot.

To communicate with confidence and deliver a powerful presentation, keep the following in mind:

Be clear on your intent. A powerful presentation requires preparation. Understand and play to the goals to ensure you deliver value and meet audience expectations. A presentation that has a clear beginning, compelling middle and actionable conclusion delivered at an easy to follow but energetic pace will be more likely to drive the outcomes you’re seeking.

Know your audience and tailor messages appropriately. Whether you are conducting a state-of-the-business presentation to hourly workers, managers and executives, using video conferencing to present to a global group across time zones and cultures, or conducting a one-on-one meeting, it’s important to know your audience. Think about your recipients and present information in a way that is meaningful to them, but assume nothing. The better you understand your audience’s needs, the better your presentation will be.

Know your subject matter. When you command the topic you’re speaking about, the more effective you’ll be in communicating with confidence. Being an expert and knowing the subject matter inside-and-out will allow you to focus on delivery and making a connection with your audience. In some meetings, your audience may be eager to learn more. Make sure you’ve thought through a mechanism by which you can succinctly answer their inquiries and provide additional depth of detail. In some cases, you might be fielding hostile questions. Make sure you’ve developed tactics to diffuse emotions in advance and have cultivated the skills to remain calm and respond appropriately.

Be authentic. Authentic and transparent communication goes a long way in building trust and connecting with your audience. Your ability to deliver a presentation that sounds genuine and credible will increase your effectiveness as a communicator. Evaluate your presentation through the lens of your listener and pay attention to non-verbal communication such as eye contact and body gestures. Speakers that don’t demonstrate authenticity tend to lack an emotional connection, resulting in messages that fail to resonate.

Sharpen your listening skills. Part of being a powerful presenter is listening and being compassionate to your audience’s needs. This is particularly important when delivering bad news such as a workforce reduction or conducting a less than positive performance review. The good way to deliver bad news is by listening carefully and communicating clearly. When communicating difficult messages, choose your words carefully and acknowledge their impact.

Spark some passion. If you want to connect with your audience, deliver messages that make them feel something. While a PowerPoint presentation can be helpful to illustrate your main speaking points, make sure you’re not reading from it. Banish jargon and “corpspeak” from your vocabulary. Whether your goal is to inform, influence or inspire, paying attention to how you package your messages is critical.

Whether in front of a few people or a packed room, business professionals who have powerful presentation skills are able to hold people’s interest, influence their thinking and make extraordinary efforts on behalf of their organization. Honing your presentation skills and learning how to present yourself powerfully will ensure your ability to lead effective meetings, reap career development benefits and build a personal brand of ongoing success.