Nobody listens their way to the top. It is important to listen and process feedback from those around you, but leaders have to stand and deliver. And the ability to hold an audience’s attention and communicate ideas effectively is a mark of leadership, presentation coach Richard Mulholland told a recent GIBS Forum.
“The difference between a leader and a manager is the ability to communicate.”
Mulholland began his career as a rock ’n roll roadie for bands like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, and then started Missing Link, a global presentation firm operating out of Johannesburg. Mulholland provides presentation coaching to CEOs and TED speakers. He is the author of the bestselling Legacide and the recent Boredom Slayer, about how to grab and keep an audience’s attention.
“The objective of any presentation is to deliver information in order to achieve a result. When presenting content, the opposite of boring is memorable,” he explained.
Mulholland picked apart some of the commonly accepted myths around presenting and public speaking:
1. The belief that presenters must avoid ‘death by PowerPoint’ at all costs is not helpful, he said: “ You can’t blame PowerPoint for a bad presentation; that’s like blaming a pan for a bad meal. Don’t ban it, just make it better.” PowerPoint is a linear tool that can help you stay on track, as people have dual channel processing and process messages using both visual and audio cues. PowerPoint can act as a visual anchor to make a presentation more memorable.
While a slide’s title acts a chapter heading, images shouldn’t simply replicate the title, but rather hold the audience’s attention by creating an element of curiosity, even if it doesn’t make sense initially.
2. The myth of “know your audience’ is sometimes simply impossible. However, every audience has an authenticity detector and presenters should always allow themselves to be authentic: “The people in the market for boring are spoilt for choice. The easiest way to stand out from the crowd is to be yourself.”
3. Presenting is not all about the delivery and being a great speaker, but rather about writing a good talk before you deliver it: “It comes down to the structure and the narrative. Most speaking training focuses on delivery, but a compelling narrative structure draws people in.”
Mulholland argued that a good presenter doesn’t have to be energetic or exciting, but that the message must be fundamentally compelling and interesting.
“Write the right story and it will draw people in. You don’t have to be big and energetic, but you must be compelling. The most wasted commodity today is people’s attention.”
Using notes when presenting isn’t problematic, Mulholland said, but presenters should be aware that they “can be like training wheels on a bicycle.” He rather suggested including more slides, which would allow for free flow within the presentation. It is especially important to memorise the segues, or transitions between slides.
“Always work under the assumption that your tech will fail. Remember, you are the presentation,” he added.
With microphone technology, voice modulation has become more important than voice projection, he explained. “Don’t keep your voice at the same volume and pitch all the time, then your peaks will mean nothing.”
A formula for delivering effective presentations
Mulholland shared four tips for giving effective presentations:
1. Give them a reason to care
Don’t bury the lead: “Give people a reason to care up front, you have to buy their attention.”
2. Give them a reason to believe
3. Tell them what they need to know
Rather than focusing on a USP, or unique selling proposition, Mulholland suggested devising a UPS, or Unique Problem that only you can Solve.
“Make your audience care about the solution so that they listen to you. Work out what the unique problem is and make customers believe that problem is important.”
4. Tell them what they need to do
Give implicit instructions: “Don’t ask people initially for the ultimate goal, you want them to take the first step. The chain of events will then follow. Or, don’t try to convince people to become vegan, rather first offer them the choice between a paper or plastic straw.”
Key leadership lessons
“Nothing feeds the status quo like the unspoken thoughts of leaders,” Mulholland said.
His advice to those who are nervous of speaking and presenting is to develop rituals.
“Ignore the people who tell you it is scary. It is scary because it matters, and because it matters, you must do it.
“No great act of consequence came from a silent leader. To lead is to speak. So lead loud.”