Presentations are like…

The analogy

I get nervous when I play football. More precisely, I get nervous for the two or three hours before each game. Sometimes I’m so tired from being nervous, my legs feel like lead. We play seven aside with 3-4 subs so there are, like Ice Hockey, “rolling subs” when people sub on and off indiscriminately. I never play well if we play a quick subs system where people run on, run hard for a few minutes and then get off. I need to read the game, see where I’m needed, see where the holes are and who the danger players for the other side are.

And presenting is like playing football.

The BMBY presenting style

When I’m presenting, I can’t follow a script to save my life. I go off on tangents during my segments. I sometimes try to crack a joke. I turn my back on the crowd. I give creepily intense eye contact. I desperately try to avoid eye contact. I talk directly to my colleagues.

I think I’m a pretty good presenter.

But at the start I get extremely nervous. My stomach churns, my hands shake a little bit, I’m sure my brow glistens.

Funnily enough, I always think my presentations are better to more people. I once had to present a company’s annual PR plan to all 150 people employees with my account director. To say I was nervous as more and more people filed in to the room would be an understatement. I though we were presenting to 8 people. Max. It was my best presentation.

My worse presentation performances have been when, as is common with junior PRs, I have one slide to talk to. All my nervous energy gets pent up and focused on one slide. Not good. I need to get a feel for the audience, gauge their reaction to other people and then adjust my pitch. You can’t do that with one slide.

Advice for entry/mid-level PRs

So, my advice for entry/mid level PRs who are given one slide is this:

  • Don’t worry about being nervous. Everyone is. You, your boss, your boss’ boss and the people you’re presenting to.
  • Focus your nervousness into performance. While you’re waiting for your slide, go through and edit what you want to say. Translate your nervous energy into real energy – energy of movement and energy of voice.
  • Slow down. Your adrenaline (the hormone that makes you “nervous”) will speed up your delivery. Slow down.
  • Realise you’re just presenting. It’s PR; not ER. Even if you make a dog’s dinner out of it, and I know you won’t, no one’s going to die.
  • Realise you’re presenting to a person. A person just like you.
  • Don’t say “errrr” or “umm”. If you’re reaching for a word, don’t say anything until it, or an alternative, comes along.
  • Smile.
  • Express yourself. Break the rules. Go off script. Tell a short joke.
  • Focus on the moment and enjoy having highly paid people listening to what you have to say.
  • Ask for more. If you can, try to get a couple more slides to let you find your rhythm. It’ll be worth it.

A video clip.

I feel a lot like “Frank the Tank” does after a presentation. The money line is about 55 sec in.

If you’re reading this in a feedreader, click here to view the video.

What are your tips for presenting?


6 Responses to Presentations are like…

  1. Hi Ed,

    First off, good post. This is very useful stuff to think about if you don’t have a lot of experience with formal presentations.

    RE the nervousness. Good point. I’ve probably done a couple hundred biz dev (and other) presentations – never mind theatrical performances, debating and public speaking – and I’ll still feel butterflies from time to time. It’s natural. But it’s also important when presenting to be confident and demonstrate authority over the subject matter. If nothing else, think this: The reason you’re presenting is because the people you’re presenting to want to hear what you have to say. Use that knowledge.

    A couple of other tips I’ve found useful:

    Try to anticipate questions. Nothing bring a good presentation to a screeching halt better than a fumbled answer or blank stare in response to a question.

    Rehearse. Practice in front of colleagues, loved ones, friends, even the mirror. If you can’t maintain good eye contact with yourself, who can you do it with?

    Try to personalize your presentation. If it’s possible (and admittedly it isn’t always possible) try to learn something about who you’re presenting to and integrate that into the spiel – “Ed, this is something that you might find useful when you’re working on X project (or with Y client)”.

    There are others, but I’ve taken up enough space already.



  2. Confidence definitely comes from practice – you don’t get to kick like Beckham or Johnny Wilkinson without putting in the pre-game time. So I recommend taking any opportunity you can to give presentations – whether that is reviewing something with a group of colleagues, seeking out of work opportunities, or grabbing that one-slide slot.

    It does help to really know your material in the wider context – so don’t just focus on your one-slide, be part of the team. If it is just you up there, then don’t put everything you know into the presentation. Keep something back – good for handling questions and expanding on points.

    Be nice to your audience – flatter them onto your side, without being creepy. Personalise even if it is just the equivalent of “hello Canada!”

    Find your voice – practice by reading children’s stories out loud where you can learn moderation, pitch and taking control of how you sound.

    Finally, don’t overdo the powerpoint slides – less is definitely more in terms of text and fancy stuff. Keep it simple.

  3. Scott says:

    Thanks Ed. Very helpful. Nice to know that even the most experienced PR folks can get a little nervous from time to time.

    And a Frank the Tank reference is always appreciated…

  4. David Jones says:

    What I find really relaxes me is when one of my co-presenters spills a big glass of water all over the table.

  5. Ed Lee says:

    Thanks Dave. The incident he’s alluding to is that at one big presentation a few weeks back I had a bit of an arm malfunction and spilt some water.

    …but I’m not the only one. Maybe the spill saved the day!

    I’ll get back to you.


  6. Owen Lystrup says:

    Great post, Ed. As always.

    First off, I always try to employ Guy Kawasaki’s 10/20/30 rule. It has a small amount of elbow room, but the fundamental axiom is good. Use a very small amount of slides with big type, and give yourself a lot of notes. This will keep the audience from getting distracted by your slides, and get them to focus more on you and what you have to say. Versus just reading what’s on your slides.

    Also, practice practice practice. Sometimes as young PR people and students, we don’t get to practice often, so take each chance as seriously as you can. Even if it’s just a presentation for a class, try to give yourself some good practice with it.

    And, be yourself on stage. Don’t try to be who the audience is expecting. Be who you are: as funny, boring, or nerdy as that might be.

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