Sweaty palms. Pounding heartbeat. Nervous smiles. Does this sound familiar? For many of us, when we are asked to deliver a presentation, this is how we feel.
Knowing that the ability to deliver crucial information in an engaging and informative way is a valuable skill, doesn’t relieve the pressure we feel. If anything, it can heighten it.
As public servants, we understand this more than most. Many of us can relate to the daunting task of trying to explain the merit in costly public policies, or finding ourselves responding to political pressures. Often, a common theme of “defending” arises whilst presenting in government, making it even more imperative that we have the confidence and skills to deliver effective and engaging presentations.
Throughout my career in the public sector, I have learned from many inspirational public figures on how to deliver a presentation with confidence. Importantly, each lesson has always underscored the same fundamental principle: everyone will prepare and deliver in their own unique way. Therefore, it is important to find your own voice and be true to it.
Whilst we all can learn from Barack Obama’s charismatic style, I firmly believe you should never try to copy him when presenting. You will only create pressures and barriers for your presenting style. Audiences want to see you, the individual. They want to relate to you.
I hope these three ideas for how to deliver presentations will build your confidence. Like any skill, they require practice and discussion. Therefore, I do hope that these points will encourage further discussion amongst your teams, and enhance a culture of collaboration amongst public servants.
Knowing your audience is essential. Within the public sector, multi-agency work is increasingly common, so it is important to note that the information you wish to deliver may require a different style of presenting depending on the context. For example, you do not want to bore an audience full of social workers with statistics about a safeguarding policy; instead, focus on embedding how this policy may benefit through personal stories (case studies).
Stakeholder mapping. This mapping allows you to break down your audience into four broad categories, divided between interest and power. It can help you target specific parts of your presentation better to key individuals, ensuring that they understand your core message well. If you are not familiar with this, I would highly encourage you to research this.
Focus on your outcome. What, or who, is it that you are trying to influence and/or inspire? Try and summarise this into one sentence. When I do this, I write it down clearly and stick this core outcome to somewhere I can easily see, so I am constantly reminded whilst preparing for my presentation what my outcome is. Don’t be afraid to mention this outcome to your audience too! If you are using PowerPoint, put this on your first slide so your audience immediately gets your intention.
2. Build a Story
Write out your key points. If using PowerPoint, avoid detailing the slides with too much text, just stick to a title. Once you have your key points and content, think about how you are going to link these. Storyboards may be useful here, where you can draw or jot down key points into this diagram, which will allow you to have a structure and flow to your presentation.
Make your points personable. This may be difficult in some cases, but you can always find a relevant case study, or even build a hypothetical scenario. This will allow continual engagement from your audience, even when their energy levels do dip.
Be warm and strong. You can achieve this by really believing in the story that you wish to deliver. Audiences love to see someone who is passionate about what they are delivering, and you can build on this by involving them. Ask for their opinions, but do not overload them with questions. By creating a conversation, not a lecture, you will be able to develop empathy from the audience.
3. Be Practical
Be conscious of time. Knowing how long you have will allow you not to rush, or create awkward silences. Roughly, if you have 750 words of content, this should last you 5 minutes.
Avoid being rigid. Create your own stage in the confines of the space you are delivering. By moving around, you can ease your nerves.
Breathe. Audiences do not expect you to like a waterfall! Take a sip of water. Smile at your audience. Don’t put on a fake performance. Be yourself, let your personality be authentic, and audiences will warm to you.
To conclude, I would also emphasise that confidence comes with practice. Get your colleagues involved, present in front of them, and encourage your teams to present to one another on a constant basis. Remember, the messages that public servants present can, and do, change lives.