Swat Those Mosquitoes in Your Business Presentations (Part I: Tips A-I)


By: Mandi Stanley

Part One

A wise woman from Amory, Mississippi, once gave me some advice I will never forget. It’s one of those catchy Southern sayings that just kinda’ sticks with you through the years:

“In this jungle of life, in the end, it’s not the lion or the tiger that eats you alive—it’s the mosquito! Honey, don’t be caught without a fly swatter.”

Success (or failure) today is found in the details—the daily decisions—that shape and mold us.

Likewise, the same can be said for those of us called upon to speak or present to a group of people. Whether you are a sales professional armed with your laptop and PowerPoint, or a committee chairperson sharing information with your peers around a conference table, or the corporate trainer for a Fortune 500 organization, or the president of your local Rotary Club, or even a Sunday school teacher, speaking in front of a group can be either the most terrifying or the most rewarding experience of your life.

You can know your content cold, but do not miss that up to 93 percent of your message comes from your eye contact, body movement, vocal tone, gestures, posture, filler phrases, even your clothing, hair, and shoes.

Even if you know what you are going to say, awareness of the other elements involved will prevent you from sending your audience distracting mixed messages. So, before you hit the stage, before you approach the podium, before you open your mouth, remember:

“In this jungle we call public speaking, in the end, it’s not the lion or the tiger that eats you alive—it’s the mosquito!”

Please consider these quick A – Z tips to be the ideal fly swatter to rid your next presentation of any pesky problems.

Analyze Your Audience 
The success of your presentation depends on your ability to connect with your audience. It’s all about them—not you. Who is going to be listening? Can you answer these crucial questions about the audience before each presentation?

  • Number of people present?

  • Age?

  • Gender?

  • Educational background?

  • Job titles and work responsibilities?

  • Knowledge level of subject?

  • Geographical location/culture?

  • Attitude and interest level?

  • “Hot Buttons” or taboo subjects?

Believe the Four “B’s” of Public Speaking 
My training manager at the American Management Association shared some of the best advice I received early in my career as a professional speaker. It is as simple as this:

  • Be prepared

  • Be interesting

  • Be brief and

  • Be seated!

Create Confidence 
As you speak, so are you perceived (and you eventually become). If you speak with confidence, you are perceived as confident, and you become more confident. These nonverbal cues let your audience know you believe in what you are saying and doing.  HINT: It is the same advice your mother gave you. Check the mirror before you go on stage, and remember:

  • Stand up straight

  • Make eye contact

  • Smile

  • Breathe

  • Confidence begins in the eye of the beholder

Dress for Success

  • What do you wear if the meeting is “business casual”?

  • How do you know if you are dressed appropriately for your presentation?

  • When in doubt, dress one level “up” from your audience.

  • Avoid busy patterns and multi-colored suits.

  • Wear darker colors when speaking in front of large groups.

  • Follow the 1+1 Rule for men’s and women’s suits: 1 primary color + 1 accent color.

  • Ladies, leave the distracting jewelry, heavy makeup, loud perfume, and “big” hair at home.

  • Men, button your coats.

  • Remember to remove your nametag before you speak.

Engage the Eyes 
Let’s dispel these two eye contact myths:

One:  Do not select a spot on the back wall right above people’s heads and focus on it.
Two:  Do not pick a point on someone’s forehead and stare at it, as if you are looking in their eyes.

Instead, make real eye contact with individuals in your audience, as if you are talking one-on-one with each person for 3 to 5 seconds. Divide the room into quadrants and alternate your focus to avoid favoring one side of the room (a common tendency among amateur presenters). And, when there is one “happy face” in the room paying attention and really listening, be aware of your inclination to focus mostly on that person.

Forget Fidgeting 
The cure to cutting out these distracting behaviors is to ask a “speaker buddy” to monitor you occasionally or to videotape yourself at least once a month (painful, but necessary).

  • Twirling your hair

  • Stroking the chin

  • Popping your pen cap

  • Tapping the lectern

  • Fiddling with your note cards

  • Jingling coins in your pocket

  • Scratching your head

  • Adjusting—and readjusting—your tie

  • Playing with your rings and other jewelry

  • Pacing

  • Continually messing with the microphone

Gesture with Grace—and Purpose 
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

People are much more likely to pay attention to what we are showing them from the stage than what we are telling them. So, our words and our body language must be in sync. Gestures should enhance—not distract from—the message. Remember these helpful hints during your next presentation:

  • Gesture in your personal power zone. It is the length of your arm span, out in front of you and above your head. The gestures may feel “big” at first, but they will look natural to your audience.

  • Refrain from pointing at your audience.

  • Resist the temptation to stick your hands in your pockets or behind your back. Your audience may think you are hiding something from them.

Highlight with Humor 

For years, the same question was volleyed about the hallways and meeting rooms during conventions of the National Speakers Association: “Should you use humor in a presentation?” The rote response was: “Only if you want to get paid!”

However, humor has its share of do’s and don’ts:

  • DO poke fun at yourself—not audience members.

  • DON’T over promise, saying “This is the funniest joke you’ve ever heard.”

  • DON’T bill yourself as a humorist unless you are. Otherwise, they’ll be expecting a stand-up comic.

  • DON’T even think about jokes that pertain to sex, religion, politics, race, age, or disabilities.

  • DO pause before the punch line. It’s not as funny if it has to be repeated.

Involve Your Audience

What are you doing to hook your auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners during your introduction? Consider these possibilities:

  • Ask an open-ended question.

  • Begin with a series of questions where they can respond by raising their hands.

  • Get them laughing.

  • Conduct a pair-and-share exercise.

  • Simply do something to get them to nod in agreement or shake their heads in disagreement.

  • Either way, you are involving them early on in the process. Few people want to simply sit and listen to a lecture anymore. They want to be part of the presentation.

  • Ask yourself:  How will I involve them early?

See Part II for tips J – Z.

By: Mandi Stanley

© 2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.



View our Presentation Skills and Train the Trainer Courses