Presenting at work
During the course of our careers, particularly as we progress up the ladder, we find ourselves increasingly asked to present our work, thoughts and ideas to others. As Accountants, we may be asked to present at department meetings, to our clients, to an audit committee or possibly the main board of directors. Even going to a job interview can involve presenting and whilst this may not take the form of a formal presentation, we are essentially presenting ourselves.
So why do we fear presenting so much?
For many people, being asked to present at work can cause a great deal of stress. Before they’re due to present, some people can feel sick or experience an overwhelming urge to just run away. The reason why we feel like this is simple. It can be traced back to thousands of years of evolution.
We’ve developed these responses from the days when we lived in packs. In a pack we were safe but if we stood up and did something different to the rest of the pack, we’d be thrown out. Being expelled from the pack meant certain death and because of this, our natural instincts evolved. Feeling unwell or stressed became a normal reaction to doing anything different and singling ourselves out for attention. Whilst the danger around us has changed (we don’t see too many wolves or bears in Chelmsford these days), the reaction remains the same.
Delivering an awesome presentation
Get off to a great start
It’s good to start with a bang, so don’t dive into the admin straight away. Deliver an opening that will spark interest and engage your audience. Good ways to start could be with a fact, a question or even a story (especially if you can link this back to the position of your audience). For example, if giving a presentation about pitching to clients, you could talk about a personal experience and add some humour. Once you’ve landed your killer opening, move on and talk through the admin of the presentation, if this is applicable, and don’t forget to thank them for giving up their time and joining you.
Tell a tale or deal in facts
If you choose to start with a story, you can continue this throughout your presentation. It’s worth thinking about your audience and how you want to pitch it. Some people prefer evidence-based presentations and may not be convinced by what they consider to be purely anecdotal. On the other hand, some people can put themselves in your shoes and imagine themselves in the same position. Think about the way the media create their headlines about an individual’s story versus statistics that prove an overall trend.
There is a well-known formula for successful presentations that consists of the following:
- Tell them what you’re going to tell them
- Then tell them
- Finish by telling them what you’ve told them
As an example, you might be presenting some cost-cutting initiatives to your Directors. The structure of your presentation might look like this:
- You’d start by talking about how you’re going to run through each of the cost-cutting measures you’ve been looking at. Then you’d explain that you’re going to talk through them individually and look at their pros and cons.
- You’d then run through each of the measures and discuss each in detail.
- Your presentation would finish with you summarising each measure briefly and adding your recommendations.
This repetition is helpful in planting your key points firmly in your audience’s minds. You can reinforce this by having slides that signpost where you are up to in your presentation.
Depending on the size of your audience and the type of presentation you’re giving, you may want to ask questions. These could be rhetorical questions, but you also have the option to involve the audience too and generate some discussion. You’ll need to decide whether your audience is expecting this from you or whether they’re at your presentation to gain information to take away with them. Asking your audience a question can be a gamble, as you run the risk of getting silence in return. It can pay off though, particularly when presenting to smaller groups at work. You get to find out your audience’s perspective and it takes the pressure away from you to keep talking. In these instances, you become the facilitator of a discussion rather than the presenter.
Other ways of interacting with your audience include online tools such as Menti, which allows you to pose a question and your audience to vote on or respond to what you’ve said. This could help you to steer your presentation or give you a gauge of where your audience is, in terms of their knowledge or experience.
Know your audience
Can you put yourself in your audience’s shoes? Do you know what they are expecting from you? When you put your presentation together, ask yourself these questions. Think about how long they are expecting you to talk for and give them an indication during your introduction. If you’re presenting to a small team, try to use their names. They’ll feel more involved and it shows that this presentation is pitched towards them personally. If you struggle with names there are lots of videos on YouTube that can help.
Make it visual
Our role as an Accountant is to turn data into information, so use slides, images, graphs and other visual data to reinforce some of your points. Some people are visual learners and this will help them to remember the information you’re giving them.
Getting over your nerves.
On the day of your presentation, you want to be the very best version of you. Being nervous is natural but here are a few things you can do to get you off to a good start.
Run through your presentation, not so that you’re word perfect but so that you are able to do it under pressure. Think about the things that could crop up and cause you to stumble. How could you get over them? Have some contingencies in your head so that you can adapt if this happens.
Get on top of the logistics
Think about how you want the room laid out in advance. Where will your audience sit and where will you be? Can those at the back hear you or will you need a microphone? Do you need any other equipment and if so who will supply it? If your audience is sat at desks or a table, do you want to give them anything; for example, paper to make notes on or a copy of your slides. If you do supply a copy of your slides, be prepared that some people will leaf through these while you are talking but if your topic is complex, it may help them.
Think about what you’re going to wear and how formal you want to be. Are you going to be comfortable in what you’re wearing? If you have a particular outfit that makes you feel confident, then this could be a good choice. Consider the temperature of the room too. You don’t want to be too hot or cold while you’re talking. On this note, think about whether you’ll need the air-conditioning on but be aware it can be noisy.
Get some sleep
Make a plan for before and after the presentation that includes some downtime. As part of this, getting a good night’s sleep before the day of the presentation is vital. Be sure to wind down properly, relax before getting into bed and write down anything you need to remember for the presentation before you go to bed. This should stop your mind racing with lots of thoughts as you lay in bed. You may also want to think about doing some relaxation exercises and research shows that switching off devices an hour before bed can help you drift off.
Get someone else to listen to you and ask them to pick up if you say a particular word over and over. These are called weasel words and we use them to fill gaps and buy ourselves some time. Common ones include; um, er, awesome, OK and right. If you find yourself doing this, it’s better to pause. Silence is much better.
Following on from weasel words, it’s also good to understand how fast you speak. Almost all of us need to slow down. Again silence is your friend here. When it comes to speaking, it’s also worth varying your tone and try to sound enthusiastic.
It’s not all about what you say
Non-verbal communication can be just as important as what you say. This means what you do with your hands, eyes, paper and how you move. Moving around as you present can be distracting for your audience. Having a particular gesture that you repeat constantly can also draw attention to it. Using your hands can be good but overusing them can be off-putting for those watching. If you’re aware that you have a particular habit, it’s worth thinking of a way to counteract it. For example, if you tend to use your hands excessively, then try holding something. If you pace around the floor, try sitting down.
A few things to avoid
- Undermining yourself
- Being unprepared
- Going over your time slot.
If want to master presenting at work, there are a few things you can do from here.
- Actively seek out opportunities to present at work
- Ask a more experienced presenter to watch you and give you feedback. Not on your content but on your presentation style.
- Research presentation skills yourself by watching YouTube videos. You could read ‘How to win friends and influence people’.This may not give direct advice on presenting but it is great at illustrating how to persuade others to your point of view.
- When you’re next at a presentation, focus on the presenter rather than the content.
If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in learning more about Memory Skills
If you’d like to find out more about what we do here at FI Chelmsford or are interested in attending one of our FREE evening workshops, please get in touch with us at Chelmsford@fi.co.uk
Ian Thoroughgood is an experienced Accountancy Tutor, who has worked in both practice and the education sector. Ian recently presented a workshop on Presentation Skills to a group of First Intuition and ICAEW students.