Learning the art of public speaking and powerful presentations

Most people have sat through at least a few PowerPoint presentations that put them to sleep or bored them to tears. Putting together a more powerful presentation — one that keeps an audience tuned in — was something Lisa Bartlett wanted to learn.

“We do a lot of public speaking,” said the regional sales manager with First National, who is responsible for Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Her job requires presenting in front of brokers, whether at symposiums and conferences or in corporate boardrooms.

Fiona Cleghorn, a training leader at Genworth Canada, delivered a two-day training course in May for Bartlett and nine other employees to teach them all about the art of public speaking and powerful presentations.

“The way (Cleghorn) taught us to present could be geared toward big crowds or just sitting down with two or three people over coffee,” said Bartlett. Part of the interactive course involved creating a PowerPoint and then presenting it to the group.

On the second day of the course, a professional cameraman filmed the presentations and Cleghorn provided feedback. By watching herself on film, Bartlett discovered a few things about her presentation style.

“It’s hard to see yourself back on camera — I don’t stand still, the cameraman is chasing me,” she said. “The feedback is that you should be firmly planted and look confident.” But the exercise is useful, she added, because as soon as you become aware of what you’re doing wrong, the more likely you are to stop doing it.

Some people might rock on their heels, make funny faces (without realizing it) or inject humour into a presentation where it doesn’t belong. When it comes to humour, she’s learned that if you’re going to use it, make it positive. It shouldn’t be about yourself, the company or the product; a joke that you share with your peers might fall flat with clients, so when in doubt keep it out.

“(Cleghorn) taught us how to bring our presentations together,” said Bartlett. And less is usually more; animations, for example, can be distracting.

“Screen shots and video clips are okay, so long as you stop and let the video play and then bring the attention back to yourself,” she said. “When you turn around you’re not talking to your audience, you’re talking to the screen (and) your audience might think you’re not prepared.”

If you’re terrified of public speaking, you’re not going to magically overcome it overnight. Being prepared and practicing your presentation over and over again — whether that’s recording yourself on your phone or practicing in front of a mirror — may sound cheesy, but it works, said Bartlett.

She’s walked away from the course with a greater understanding of how to create more powerful presentations, and now has a ready-made PowerPoint for clients that’s already been put to use. Now First National is looking to roll out the course in other branches across the country.

To date, Genworth has delivered more than 10,000 training courses and is enhancing its online webinar series as part of the Genworth Canada Development Centre, including courses on negotiating, networking and increasing your competitive edge.

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