Of all the 200 Soft Skills in use currently, I would say that Presentation, is used most often!
Because of their generic nature, Presentations cover a huge range of applications from language learning to selling a car. It’s a tough call but we can draw on a bank of other Soft Skills to fill the gaps. I call this technique ‘Bundling’ and I referred to it several times in my articles over the last 12 months here in Linked In.
For example, Critical Thinking and Brainstorming can complement each other during project planning; Storytelling can be applied to illustrate an example of Thought Leadership; Critical Thinking is a natural component of Mentoring.
This is good and bad news for you the Presenter.
Let’s take the bad news first. It will be important to understand what exactly the features of the bundled soft skills are that you want to achieve and what is the value they are adding.
It’s like the different instruments in an orchestra where the Conductor is the only person who needs to know what each instrument is capable of that that they are all working together to deliver the expectations of the audience.
It may be bad news but you can consider yourself to be the Conductor of your Presentation. The tools and techniques which you select to support you in its delivery and the people who will be using them, are under your guidance. You know what needs to be achieved and you know how you are going to achieve it effortlessly and seemlessly.
Planning is The Golden Rule of Presentation and it starts with the setting of clear objectives … yours and the participants’. Having got your focus clearly set on your goals, you can engage the audience by asking questions, seeking opinions, eliciting views. ‘How feasible…?’ ‘How will this impact…?’ You are facilitating a conversation between the members of the group and once you’ve established this, they are more likely to be actively contributing to your message.
Another helpful aspect of planning is to set yourself personal objectives for the Presentation to help keep you on track as you go through each stage of the Presentation.
Objectives also stop us having those post-presentation blues where we beat ourselves up: ‘Why did I say that?’ or ‘Why didn’t I say that?’ Instead, we can turn to our plan and check to see how we actually did: ‘Yes, I covered that objective and they asked a question’ or ‘ No I didn’t mention that but I could will sure to next time.’
The good news is that unlike the audience for an orchestra who will listen quietly throughout the performance, you can encourage your audience to participate and join you in a journey of discovery.
Let’s take a look at the range of ‘instruments’: the tools and techniques that are available enhance the Presentation and achieve the range of objectives we have set for it.
1. Engaging – breaking out of the Presentation ‘bubble’ and getting alongside those faces out there may often be resisted because it risks losing control and being challenged or criticized. But if you can plan for this and try it out, you will find that the sooner the presentation becomes a two-way street the sooner everyone can relax.
2. Questioning – asking a question is an easy and natural way to engage and as I discussed in my article of January 14th, there is a sequence available for us to follow that takes us through the phases in the Presentation from planning, through testing, to closing. All 8 question types are shown in the article.
3. Informing – this is the most common output from a Presentation and certainly one that the audience expects as a minimum but it doesn’t all have to come from you. There may be a wealth of relevant knowledge and experience around the room which can illustrate and expand the information you bring. So welcome that and include it. Drawing on other peoples’ experience can also help to highlight what’s different about what you have to offer.
4. Brainstorming – This soft skill can be turned on when the Presentation needs a lift… after lunch, for example. Identify an issue which has come up and challenge the audience to come up with their solutions using the tools and techniques which you introduced earlier.
5. Collaboration – activities like Brainstorming during Presentations work best when done in small, short breakout groups in which participants are rotated throughout the presentation. It’s important to keep checking in and observing the input to make sure it’s evenly spread.
6. Storytelling – a useful tool which the Presenter can deploy to highlight a change of pace and illustrate how learning which has been introduced can be applied in practice. If your Presenting a product or a solution it helps you to make it accessible. Participants will often have their own stories to tell and welcoming two or three of these reinforces the open, inclusive tone that you set for at the outset. At the very least, you will have an interesting discussion and maybe even some life changing insights.
My June 19 article on this topic last year described the ‘5C Process’ which begins by setting the Context of the story and then goes on to introduce the Characters involved. Next comes an element of Conflict which might be a difference of views or a full-on head to head disagreement out of which may emerge understanding which in turn can lead to a happy… Change for instance.
7. Facilitating – the distinction between ‘Training’ and ‘Facilitation’ is well documented and can be described as the difference between ‘the Presenter’ leading the audience through a process of discovery and a ‘Facilitator’ who guides the audience in creating the learning process themselves. The Presenter keeps an eye on the objectives that were agreed and ensures that new learning is identified as the group steers itself towards a valid outcome.
8. Listening – Be sure to allow plenty of space in your Presentation to encourage any contributions that may come up from the audience. Getting input this way adds a lot of value to the Presentation, especially when it comes in response to a new piece of information that you have just delivered. Paying close attention when a member of the audience is providing input is important because summarizing what was said will be necessary as an act of courtesy and appreciation for the contribution and also to help the other members of the audience to take in what was said.
9. Reframing – is an essential skill for every Presenter because it presents an opportunity to encourage different perspectives on an issue and open up new options in a discussion. For example, a member of the audience may describe something as being a ‘problem’ to which you might respond by reframing it as a ‘challenge’ which changes the chemistry of the conversation.
10. Summarising – is an important because it ensures that audiences get the most from the Presentation experience. Reframe, recap and consolidate throughout then summarise at the end of the Presentation. It ties everything up satisfactorily and can give the audience some added shape and perspective to what you had to say. Summarising will also illustrate how much ground you covered in your presentation.
Working with a group of people to create satisfying, finely-tuned outcomes is worth the attention to detail and coordination. Everyone takes something away including you.