How to present your way to the top

It’s easy to understand why so many otherwise capable people are distressed, anxiety-ridden and almost paralyzed if they’re called upon to make a presentation. They often reveal how they feel by starting out with “I only wish I had more time to prepare” or “I’m not really good at public speaking.” Unfortunately, what follows proves it.

It isn’t surprising that with successful presenters, the story is different. We view them as possessing leadership capabilities, as well as being committed, competent and rising stars.

What is it that separates capable presenters from those who struggle?

Research by Caroline J. Wesson at the University of Wolverhampton in the United Kingdom, may help to understand the issue: The perceived confidence that listeners have in a speaker determines how they regard the person’s “accuracy, competence and knowledge level.” Then, Wesson adds, “The more confidently expressed that information is, the more likely it is to be followed.”

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By all measures, Jack Welch, the former GE CEO and chairman, was not just brilliant but an exceptional business leader. Although he gave hundreds of speeches and presentations during his career, he didn’t take chances on how they would be received.

For Jack Welch, every presentation made a difference. He understood that his legacy depended on more than his words. As a child, he stuttered, but he learned from his mother that confidence could help him overcome his limitations.

Why is confidence so formidable and influential in presenting? We can find the answer in what presentations are meant to accomplish. Whatever else they may do, their goal is to persuade. Listeners throw down the gauntlet. They challenge presenters to convince, sway and motivate them. Logic alone doesn’t do it; it requires confidence.

Rules for building ­confidence

Just saying that confidence is needed isn’t enough. Here are rules that help achieve the confidence goal.

Rule #1. Prepare properly. Proper preparation means writing out every word you’re going to say. This is how to shape and focus your message and get rid of what’s useless or irrelevant.

Rule #2. Control the situation. Presenters are actors – and they’re also directors. It’s their job to set the stage – to take control.

Rule #3. Never apologize. Avoid such statements as “I’m not a speaker” or “I only wish I had more time to prepare” or “My grandmother’s cat died.” What they do is broadcast your lack of self-confidence.

Rule #4. Break the PowerPoint habit. Dependence on slides is an addiction, and once it has you in its grasp, it won’t let loose. Use slides and other props, such as videos and graphics, sparingly to support your presentation.

Rule #5. Start strong. Demonstrate confidence from the get-go. What works may be telling a story about how your product or service helps customers and how it can benefit them.

Rule #6. Give them a roadmap. To keep listeners focused on what you’re saying, let them know where you’re going. Example: “Here’s where we are today. We have three choices. Only one of them will get us where we want to be.”

Rule #7. Compelling close. Never leave listeners confused or up in the air. That only shatters their confidence in you and your message. Why is presenting a skill that’s key to career advancement? It demonstrates all the right qualities – the ability to analyze issues, leadership and most of all instill confidence.

John Graham of GrahamComm is a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer. Contact him at