give a presentation
November 10, 2020

Should you give a presentation or have a friendly chat? (part 1 of 2)

By Paul Laughlin

When presenting in businesses, we tend to focus on the performance, the need for you to confidently ‘give a presentation‘. But, in this post, guest blogger Tony Boobier reminds us that there is much more to consider, including what works for you too. That’s real resonance.

International mentor, consultancy & author Tony Boobier has shared with us before. As well as reviewing his books on AI & the future of Banking, he’s contributed his advice on Data Visualisation, Innovation & Re-Employment.

In this post, Tony shares his tips from experience as a presenter. In this post (part 1 of 2), he explores the aspects of appearance & standing up…

The world stage that is your home office

Giving a presentation has never been just about sharing content. ‘All the World’s a Stage’, said Shakespeare’s character Jaques in the comedy ‘As you Like it’. Jaques was, of course, referring to the Seven Ages of Man, but he also gives us a useful clue as to how best to do a presentation. Presenters are, in effect, a form of actor and their task is to give an informed, intelligent performance.

At present we are being bombarded with online presentations. It’s not just what is said in a presentation but how it is said which is increasingly important, to ensure that it is memorable. There’s an increasing need to have both ‘substance’ and ‘style’.

Creating some sort of online ‘style’ has always been an important element in giving a successful presentation. Your style might be measured by how the slides look, how you speak, or even what you wear. 

Are you dressed for success when giving a presentation online?

I remember being concerned once upon a time about whether I should wear a necktie for a presentation. If so, which necktie should I choose? The one with the professional insignia which denoted some professional standing? Or maybe the bright garish coloured one, which made a statement about how confident I was? At the end of the day, does it matter?

Minor decisions like this don’t really compare to how Silicon Valley champions like Steve Jobs dress to do their ‘gig’. In his case, a signature black turtle neck sweater and trousers make him look a bit like a ‘presentation Ninja’. Other times, I’ve seen people presenting to an important audience looking as if they are wearing the first clothes they found on the floor in the morning.

For those, remember, clothing is a form of ‘statement’. They say that the message is much more important than how the speaker looks or dresses.  For the rest of us, mere mortals, a shirt & chinos will have to do. 

Are you dressing your background?

In our new ‘virtual world’ of Zoom meetings and the like, the style of clothing has been increasingly replaced by the speaker’s backdrop. That is, the view behind them when they are speaking. Presenter ‘etiquette’ is for the backdrop to be as plain as possible, so as not to distract from the speaker. Plainness is also a virtue if a speaker wants to cheekily use a virtual backdrop like a New York apartment or a tropical rainforest. Those only project well onto a plain surface. 

Others use real backdrops rather than virtual. But, they stage-manage the backdrop to say something about themselves. A musical instrument might suggest a rounded, cultural character. A carefully placed book on a bookshelf might suggest that the presenter is well-read. Some politicians are especially adept at manipulation.

Wearing a suit and tie for a Zoom call is also an increasing trend. It says that the speaker is far too important to be lounging around in their slippers. 

Don’t forget the basics

There are of course some presentation basics. Having a decent camera and microphone, with the camera lens being at eye level through the use of judiciously stacked books, prevents the viewer from looking up your nostrils.

Trying to avoid distractions and preventing domestic intruders also helps. Although sometimes a small member of the family or a pet unexpectedly joining in can make a presentation infinitely more memorable. People have really warmed to these humanising moments, especially in their leaders.

Some say that standing up when virtually presenting is a good thing, but it’s a technique that doesn’t work for me. When I stand, I have the desire to move around and wander out of range of the camera. And I’m too far from the keyboard so I have to reach into it to make any changes or move the slides, which makes me look as if I am lunging at the audience.

What do you do when giving a presentation online?

Thanks to Tony for his tips & observations from many years of speaking professionally. Much more practical advice to come in part 2.

What about you, dear reader? Do you now need to present online more often than ever before? Do you approach these as performances? Do you ‘dress for success‘? Do you stand up when presenting? Unlike, Tony, that approach works for me, as long as I’m not presenting for over an hour.

I look forward to hearing about your experience. We are all still learning how to present well through video conferencing & other digital tools. So, let’s keep sharing as data leaders. Let’s help raise the bar for our whole profession.