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June '05 Build Business: Presentations Wanted: Alive, Not Dead

by Carol Doscher, Graceworks
June 7, 2005

Editor’s note: As a new monthly contributor to, the Society for Marketing Professional Services is sponsoring Build Business. This new series, written by industry experts, focuses on marketing and business development best practices to help you build business and advance your career.


So there I was in the airport, talking on the phone with a colleague. I was about to hang up to go catch my flight when she added excitedly, “Oooh, before you go, do you have a second to hear this?”


Turns out she had just heard from a client who had interviewed seven teams for a rather high-profile job. The client, said my colleague, was under-whelmed by the lack of passion: “Those presentations – they were so boring! They each got up and showed slide after slide of their work. There was only one that had passion. And they won the job! Honestly, it almost didn’t matter what they said: They were ALIVE!”


Was I ever glad that I took a moment to hear that story. As I boarded the plane, I couldn’t help but muse on this truth: In a live presentation, people demand LIFE. Seems reasonable, right? But as a presenter, you face an uphill battle. First, you battle your own fear of public speaking; second, old habits and bad teaching; and finally, your client’s preconceptions about the interview experience. Sadly, they are accustomed to the “same ‘ole, same ‘ole.” They don’t really want it, but they expect it because that’s what they see and hear all the time – what I call the dead-live presentation.


Now, if you want real life in your presentations, roll up your sleeves. Here are some essential must-do’s and don’ts:


Strategize Sooner

Buy time on the front-end for actual practice – put an end to the crunch mode. The only way presenters can be comfortable in the presentation is to practice.


Strategize with Everyone Present

Something special happens when we are face to face. Sparks fly and ideas crystallize when people come together in person. It is proven that this does not happen via e-mail, voicemail, conference calls, or even video-conferencing. Avoid re-inventing the wheel when that last team member shows up for the first time the day before the presentation.


Develop Your Message First; Then Choose Supporting Graphics

Don’t start with a template from your last presentation and shoehorn your story into an existing PowerPoint show. You will compromise your message to your new client. Remember: you are the presentation, not your graphics. And during the presentation, never turn down the lights for your PowerPoint show or speak to your slides or boards instead of your audience, right? Right!


Okay, that’s the easy stuff. Now we move to the heart of the matter…


Share Your Passion and Joy

Right after the strategy session, ask yourself: How do I feel about my subject? Connect with your true passion and feelings about your topic; find your enjoyment in what you are talking about. And by the way, this is not an option. It is essential. Your passion is the foundation on which you can deliver all the technical information you like. If it’s delivered with conviction and emotion, they will listen to you all day.


Dare to Show the Real You

Let go. Let go of the control. Let go of trying to be perfect. Let go of being afraid to make a mistake. Let go of trying to be smart. Let go of trying to be appropriate. Let go of feeling that you need to be articulate. Let go of trying to be professional. (You will be all those things, trust me.) Let go of the control – did I say that already? Good. I’ll say it again. Let go of feeling afraid that you‘ll look like a fool. When you think you’ve gone too far and look foolish, then finally you won’t look foolish. You’ll be human like the rest of us, and your audience will love and respect you.


Help Your Listeners

News flash: A presentation is not about the speaker, it’s about the listeners. If there weren’t any listeners, you wouldn’t need to bother speaking. Go out of your way, do whatever you have to do to help them see what you see, know what you know, feel what you feel. Here’s how: If you feel it, they’ll feel it. If you see it, they’ll see it. If you experience what you are talking about, your audience will experience it. You set the temperature in the room. What happens to you happens to your audience.


A live presentation is a visceral experience, not an intellectual one. If you deliver information on an intellectual level only, your listeners will miss it. You must feel what you are talking about. (Good, I got that feeling point in there again. Did you notice? It’s that important!)


Be Bold – Own the Room

Please don’t apologize for being there. Don’t doubt yourself – believe in what you are sharing and doing. Just as a child feels safe when an adult takes charge of a situation, you want to make your listeners feel comfortable and taken care of. You do that by being bold and taking ownership of the moment and the room.


Check Your Ego at the Door

Put your listeners’ needs ahead of your own. Remember, this presentation is all about them. So talk about what they care about. Empathize with them and their needs. And do whatever you can do to meet those needs.



Please. Your listeners will thank you. But how and what to practice? First, do it out loud. Thinking through your piece is as effective as thinking about going to the gym. You won’t know if your bullet points work until you put them into action, so speak them! And what you are really practicing is not the exact wording but the flow of your main points, from A to B to C, etc.


In summary, I believe these are some of the real ways to bring your presentations back to life. I encourage you to make a change or two. I heard recently that the definition of insanity is doing something the way you have always done it but expecting different results. Go ahead, I dare you. Do something differently and see what happens!



Carol Doscher is president of Graceworks Inc., a New York-based presentation/communication training and coaching firm. Having been featured in the New York Times and on Bloomberg television, she has trained hundreds of design and construction professionals. Her enthusiasm for connecting with audiences has been inspired by 10 years of performing on and off-Broadway.


(click on pictures to enlarge)


© 2005