For executives addressing the board of directors or candidates interviewing for a new job, how well -- or how poorly -- they communicate often makes the difference between success and failure.
"A lot of senior people don't present themselves and their ideas in a very compelling way," says Jeanne Golly, a member of the WJM Associates coaching faculty who has helped executives around the world improve their presentation skills. "Many are used to having people follow their every word, and they don't necessarily invest as much in their communications style as they do its substance. As a result, they do not always convey their ideas as effectively to internal and external audiences."
Golly recalls one client who had a military background. "When he was speaking to small groups, he was as personable as you or I, but when he got up on the podium, he reverted back to his military style of 'addressing the troops' and appearing to withhold information," she says.
Golly worked with the client to demonstrate more emotion, animation and enthusiasm as a public speaker. "We got him to turn up the bubble machine a bit," she says. "He was like a new person."
Not every corporate leader needs to make such a dramatic transition as the former military officer, but most can improve their presentation skills by following a few suggestions:
Make a mantra of your message. Develop a standard way of communicating high-priority ideas and stick to it. "One of my clients kept changing the way he would refer to corporate goals and programs," says Golly. "As a result, people became confused because they thought the mission had changed."
Tell people what you're going to tell them. Before enumerating the four, five or six major points of your presentation, tell your audience just what you intend to cover ("Today I'm going to discuss the three main objectives of our new marketing program. The first objective is …"). When you finish discussing all your major points, summarize them for your audience.
Slow down. Many speakers talk too fast when they get up in front of a room. Your audience will be able to follow your thoughts better if you present them a little more slowly than you would when speaking to someone face-to-face.
Incorporate body movement into your presentation. If you're going to talk about three things, hold up three fingers. Try to make eye contact with several members of your audience, not just one or two. And if at all possible, get out from behind the podium. You and your audience will both feel closer to each other.
Practice, practice, practice. Few speakers practice as much as they should. If at all possible, rehearse your presentation in front of a few members of your staff, or take the time to have yourself videotaped with a professional advisor. "You don't want to be unprepared for what may be the biggest moment of your career," says Golly.