• akosgerold

Do you have the presentation X-factor?

“Did you feel the power?” I asked my wife as soon as Rayana had left the room.

“I did,” she replied.

We were both in awe.

When it comes to work, I am usually not swayed by emotions much. I have a very critical eye and I notice literally every little mistake and good move in presentations as if I was watching them in slow motion. This is sometimes a curse, but most of the time it’s a blessing. At the end of the day, it is just how my brain works and it makes me difficult to impress.

But Rayana was able to put my critical eye to sleep in a presentation. I did notice some mistakes, but I didn’t care about them much.

I was amazed.

Over the years, I had trained and consulted for CEOs, presidents of organisations and managers at different levels. I had prepared them for important peer reviews at the HQs of global organisations, for presentations at world-renown universities, conferences and major events. Some of my clients were very experienced and confident at public speaking and some were also considered good at it too.

However, none of them had ever suceded in short-circuiting my analytic mind. And Rayana Vasconcelos, a 30-year old trainee at the Lemann Foundation, originally a metallurgical engineer born in Belo Horizonte in Brazil, had just done exactly that.

Rayana Vasconcelos with Ákos Gerold at the Lemann Foundation in São Paulo.
She has the presentation X-factor -- Rayana Vasconcelos with Ákos Gerold at the Lemann Foundation in São Paulo.

Actually, she had done much more — she had made me want to work with her in the simulation we were conducting to test her and some of her colleagues’ presentation and other communication skills.

With her presentation and the subsequent meeting we had, she touched my emotions. We know that emotions make us take action. If it hadn’t all been part of a simulation-based assessment and if I had really been the CEO of a foundation, I would have certainly very seriously looked into co-investing with her organisation, the Leman Foundation, which was her goal with the presentation and meeting.

What were the three key elements that made Rayana, who had never received any presentation or communication skills training, so effective? (I saved the X-factor for the end.)

#1 She adjusted to her audience.

A presentation can only be successful, if the speaker puts him/herself in the audience’s shoes and delivers what the audience is looking for. This is not easy. And many presenters fail at it. It’s very natural to follow our own logic of what would be persuasive. That is persuasive for US. However, being a different person, with a different background and different concerns than our audience, our arguments and logic may fail to be persuasive enough for THEM.

Takeaway #1: Don’t just organise ideas based on what seems logical and convincing to you. Instead, set up a detailed, I mean DETAILED audience profile to understand where they are coming from. What will influence their decisions. What their fears and hopes are. This will pay off handsomely later, when they invite you back for another conversation and/or accept your proposal.

#2 She used stories as short examples strategically to speak to emotions and increase memorability.

Even though we think we make most of our decisions rationally and even though we do make some of them rationally, our emotions play a lot bigger role in our decision making than we would like to believe. Often a decision is made emotionally and we just justify it to ourselves and our colleagues, friends and family using rational arguments.

Takeaway #2: Don’t just use facts. Weave stories into your presentations to evoke emotions and make your message more memorable. Even data is more memorable when it is carefully selected and presented in a story than when it is part of a data dump.

To illustrate this in my Brain-Friendly Storytelling training, I tell a story which is not even relevant for the participants and pepper it with some data. Days later, they still recall the data that was of no real significance to them. Why? Because the emotions in the story helped them remember the data too. Now, imagine how much more memorable it would all be if the data and the story actually affected them. Storytelling and the emotions it awakes make your message travel longer. Much longer. And drive decisions more effectively too.

#3 She was authentic and vulnerable.

Too often, when we speak to someone who intimidates us because of the difference in the level of hierarchy or if the stakes are high, we want to project a different, perhaps a more confident image. We put on a mask. While we should undoubtedly be confident in what we say in any presentation, it is also important to stay authentic. Others very easily pick up on ingenuity and it is off-putting even if they cannot always pinpoint what it is they don’t like about a person.

Rayana did not pretend to be someone else in the simulation despite obviously being nervous and perhaps even a little intimidated. She had to perform in English, which she does not speak very well, and play a role that was way beyond her pay grade.

By choosing not to put on a mask of fake unwavering confidence which may hide emotions, by being confident and herself at the same time, even if this meant being somewhat vulnerable, she was authentic.

I could feel I was listening and talking to another human being who was not pretending to be perfect and wasn't, but who believed in what she was saying.

And that made me not care about the presentation mistakes. That made me connect with her and her cause. That made me want to work with her.

Takeaway #3: Speak from the heart. Be authentic. Authenticity, even if it makes you a little vulnerable, wins more hearts than any confident mask.

Rayana may well be a natural at touching people’s hearts and speaking in public. She may have the X-factor. Not all of us have been blessed with such skills. But since these are skills, we can learn them and improve at them.

The next time I will be teaching you how to present like Rayana did will be at the Munich Creative Business Week on 11th March.

I hope to see you there.

Happy presenting!

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