How to leverage a lifetime of experience? Transform it into a compelling presentation.

By Laura Bruce, Toastmasters International

Standing in front of an audience is a powerful place to be.  Give an excellent presentation and you’ll win not just respect but also new or additional business. Underperform, and you’ll wish you were having a duvet day!

If you’ve got years of experience, seizing the opportunity to speak to an audience can bring tremendous rewards.

But are you recognised as an expert? Until you can demonstrate your expertise in a compelling manner, you’ll miss out on the best rewards. You won’t command the highest fees, negotiate the best deals, or get the top job.

Luckily, although gaining a deep understanding of your business sector takes years, you can create an excellent presentation and develop the skills to present it well in weeks.

Get your presentation ready

As you’ve developed your career or business, your industry knowledge will have become both deep, and wide. Begin by choosing your presentation subject. Find something that will genuinely interest your target audience. For maximum appeal, identify a narrow slice of your area of expertise. By going deep, you’ll be forced to be specific and showcase what you know and your audience is unaware of, until you tell them.

With your niche defined the next step is deciding what you want to communicate. In The 7 habits of highly effective people Dr Stephen Covey gives the sage advice, “start with the end in mind”. What do you want your audience to know when you finish speaking?  Decide on  three main points.

Sketch these out on a piece of paper, creating a mind map. Now note down three or more interesting or important aspects of each of your three main points. Think of stories you can tell that will illustrate your points and bring yourpoints to life.

Particularly if you are referring to statistics or other numbers, see if you can bring these to life as well. Can you translate a statistic into an analogy that your audience will relate to? This will help reduce barriers to understanding, and improve how your material is received.

Depending how much time you’ve been allotted, you can add more examples. But avoid trying to communicate too much information. Most people have a very short attention span. If your topic is technical, only the most enthusiastic will be able to sustain their attention for more than a few minutes.

To give you the best chance of maintaining your audience’s attention for the duration of your presentation, be succinct. Don’t go into more detail than you need to to make a point or illustrate an example. Your audience will thank you!

Write down your presentation. Structure it into the three main points you wish to make. Add a beginning, and a conclusion. One hint: it’s helpful to signal your closing. By saying, “And in conclusion. . .” you give your audience a clue that you are nearly finished, and they’ll reward you with renewed attention.

And if you really want to “wow” your audience, don’t use slides at all. By being the speaker who simply spoke to her audience, without any audio-visual backup, you may paradoxically make the biggest impression.

It’s all down to your delivery.

Prep your delivery

To really stand out, you’ll need more than just your great presentation: you’ll have to deliver it with aplomb.

While you may never be entirely comfortable speaking to a group, there are ways to become less anxious.

The most important part of being comfortable on stage, is to be prepared. There really is no substitute for knowing your material inside and out. So practise your presentation.

Start in an easy, relaxed way by reading it aloud. Notice if there are place where you are getting too wordy.  A common mistake, particularly for nervous or inexperienced speakers is to using sentences that are too long. These can create mechanical problems. Are you aware that speaking sentences that are too long can leave you breathless – literally? Shorten them and you’ll eliminate the risk of unnecessary strain.

Aim for a conversational style. It helps to imagine you’re speaking to friends or colleagues. How would you speak to them? This will help you adopt an informal approach. So keep your sentences reasonably short, and avoid jargon.

Knowing your audience is helpful. It enables you to use language they will understand, and perhaps even make a joke or two.

If I’m doing an important presentation, I like to record it and listen to it a number of times. I will play it back while I am driving, and speak along to the recording. As I get better at reciting it, I will make a fresh recording. This gives more accurate inflection, and I will have a better handle on where to put the emphasis in each sentence.

If you are serious about doing a great presentation, consider joining a Toastmasters club. Members give prepared speeches at each meeting, and most clubs have a number of experienced speakers. From them you’ll get helpful, constructive feedback before you deliver your presentation “for real”. There are clubs across the UK and Ireland, and most cities and towns have one.

On stage

When it comes time to deliver your presentation, remember why you are there in the first place. You want to establish your authority, by sharing your expertise. You’ll want to dress like an expert, too. While many speakers have mastered the “casual look” on stage, there is a certain confidence that comes from knowing you look professional.

Be sure to drink plenty of water. Speaking is a dehydrating activity.

Help yourself relax when you get up on stage by giving a big smile.  I recommend videoing your speech for later review. You’ll be able to objectively assess your presentation on screen in a way you’re simply not able to in the moment. Appreciate what you did well, and note areas you’d like to improve.

Look for opportunities to present your hard-earned expertise. As awareness of your expertise spreads you will reap the rewards – including more speaking engagements!



Laura Bruce is from Toastmasters International a non-profit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 345,000 in more than 15,900 clubs in 142 countries. Since 1924, Toastmasters International has helped people of all backgrounds become more confident in front of an audience. There are more than 300 clubs in the UK and Ireland with over 7,500 members. To find your local club:  Follow @Toastmasters on Twitter.

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