If you’ve ever presented information to an audience, you know how excruciating this process can be. Many of us aspire to be the next Steve Jobs–or whichever famous communicator is your favourite. The trouble is, when we imitate somebody else, we fail to convey who we truly are. Here we explore how to develop your personal communication style in order to be your best self when presenting.
Are you quiet and reserved? Outgoing and charismatic? One thing I’ve learned in my 20 years of working with business leaders is that there are all kinds of presenters out there. And whatever your style, it can work. Diversity makes the world a more interesting place. The best way to present with more impact is to be yourself. You’re awesome just as you are!
This can be easier said than done. A lot of communication training teaches us where to place our hands; how to enunciate more clearly; or how to open a presentation with a bang. Don’t get me wrong: these techniques are useful. But the single most important skill you need in order to deliver a presentation more confidently, and consistently, is to develop your personal communication style.
Here are three tips to help you connect with your inner rock star–whether you’re more of an over-the-top performer, like Lady Gaga or Bruce Springstein, or an insightful technical master, like Billie Eilish or George Harrison.
Play to Your Strengths
Some of us are outgoing. Others are quiet. If you’re a naturally funny person, by all means crack some jokes in your presentation to warm up your audience. Maybe you’re not naturally a jokester, and tend towards a more serious tone in your communication. Or if you’re a hand-talker, channel your inner Italian and go for it!
What matters most is playing up your strengths, and not trying to be something you’re not. This is where presenters go wrong. When you try to emulate somebody else, you end up being a second-rate somebody else, not a first-rate you. We can certainly learn a lot from studying presentation masters. Do yourself a favour though, and integrate any skills you pick up into a foundation that’s based on you.
One of the most powerful presentations I’ve ever witnessed was delivered by a leader who struggled enormously to speak publicly. In the months leading up to an important talk, we worked carefully to develop his messaging and test out various delivery methods to find what felt most comfortable for him. On the big day, he delivered a humble, passion-filled talk that left the audience breathless. The secret to his success was playing to his strengths rather than forcing him into the so-called ideal style of presenting, which had derailed him in the past.
Use Your Perceived Weaknesses to Your Advantage
We all have things about ourselves that we don’t like. I won’t bore you with my long list of perceived flaws. These can be anything from how we look, or how we appear on camera, to the sound of our voice. Sometimes people who are presenting in a second language don’t like their accent. Yet it’s these very distinguishing features that make us memorable. Try to imagine Arianna Huffington or Esther Perel with a standard American accent. Would this add anything to their communication impact? More than likely, it would have the opposite effect.
I’m told all the time that I have a strange accent–some kind of hybrid between my original roots in Canada combined with years of living abroad and operating in an international business environment. That’s OK. As long as I make myself understood, who cares whether I say “toe-MAY-toe” or “toe-MAH-toe” or even “TOE-may-toe”? Use your perceived weaknesses as an advantage to set you apart. We don’t want to see a cookie-cutter Everybody Else. We want to meet your full imperfect self.
Speak with Passion
Usually the audience is on our side. They want to hear what we have to say. Even in those rare cases where we face a hostile audience, we will be most effective in communicating the best version of ourselves. And when we speak with passion it’s hard to go wrong, no matter what we’re talking about.
Sometimes in a business context we believe it’s best to leave emotion at the door. Keeping our emotions in check may serve us when weathering a crisis, or having a difficult conversation with a colleague or team member. When presenting, however, an absence of emotion is the quickest way to drive your audience to their phones and To Do lists.
Think about how you would tell a story to family or friends around the dinner table. Chances are you roll up your sleeves, ditch the jargon and lean in to get their attention. We can do the same thing on a bigger scale with presentations. Think about how would you convey this information to your loved ones. Do you build suspense? How do you start and end the story? What kind of energy do you have? You might find it helpful to test run a presentation in this less formal setting.
Remember, a presentation is never about us. It’s about our audience receiving the information we’re sharing with them. Play around with different techniques to see what feels good. Then play it up to the max! With time and practice you will develop your personal communication style and be your best self.