Is Alcohol a Good Idea Before Your Presentation?

Imagine you have been invited as the after dinner speaker at a local club or organization and they are serving wine with the meal. Should you partake? I would tell you to stick to water or coffee or tea. While you may find one alcoholic drink or one glass of wine relaxing and a good means of settling your nerves, I beg to differ.

Some years ago, I was invited to speak to a group of female insurance agents at their monthly meeting. Wine was being served with the meal. I had one glass. Admittedly, I drink very little alcohol but I could not imagine that one glass of wine would hurt.

Hurt it did because I lost my edge. When I rose to speak, I was overly confident and I experienced no nervousness. Prior to that engagement and in all the others that have followed, I experience nervousness. I like nervousness; I want you, as the public speaker, nervous because if you aren’t nervous, then I am concerned.

You can never be that confident in a live performance – that one glass of wine gave me a confidence I did not deserve and I did not want. I was not as focused and I lost my passion for my topic because the adrenaline was not rushing to do its job. While I count on nervousness to give me an edge, to help take my presentation to a whole new level, the secret in dealing with it is learning how to control it. When you are in control of your nervousness, you will discover how to let it work for you and not against you.

Later in my career, I was invited to speak to the executives at Labatt’s Beer in London, Ontario. I was offered a beer to drink during my presentation. (That was a first!) I declined, however, remembering well my experience with the insurance women.

Having that edge in public speaking, experiencing the rush of adrenaline is truly a blessing when facing an audience. Avoid the alcohol so to keep that edge. Trust me, your audience will appreciate your delivery so much more so.

Your Presentation: Graveyard Session or Angelina Jolie?

They may be rare – few and far between – but some presentations are like watching Angelina Jolie go by in a short skirt. They compel your attention. And if the presenter really knows their stuff, Angelina might even stop, indulge a wink and blow a kiss your way. But sadly, most are not. Most presentations are more like a Sunday afternoon in an unused municipal graveyard…in bad weather…in uncomfortable underwear.

So if you’re determined to treat your next audience to Angelina, rather than a crow-ridden plot, where do you start?

Well, logic dictates that we begin by asking what goes into creating a graveyard presentation and then, by reverse-engineering, we will work our way back to a really top notch talk.

Creating the Graveyard

Most graveyard presentations suffer from these three ills:

1. Too much dry fact, and not enough emotive language
2. Too much explanation, and not enough relevance
3. Too many slides, not enough imagination.

Presentations are not about fact. They are about Impact.

Turning your presentation back into Angelina is actually not difficult. Your task is to take the most important and poignant facts and make them really come to life. Remember: the facts are not the important thing. The impact that they make; that’s what truly matters.

So, how do you make dry facts impactful? With stories and metaphors, the two legs that Angelina stands on.

Creating Angelina

Using stories and metaphors is actually quite easy. It is simply the act of saying, “It’s like…”, and then creating a small series of mental pictures.

Using ‘It’s Like…’ is a wonderfully effective way of taking a complex, abstract idea and turning it into something that people can ‘see;’ something that they can ‘get’ quickly. It’s the difference between saying, “We’re a small company competing against big brand names,” versus: “We’re that four foot nothing martial artist that takes on the six foot boxers… and flattens them all!”

You can use metaphors in your speeches, sales pitches, articles and interviews. In fact, use them whenever you need to persuade. Metaphors get the job done quickly, in addition to being novel and memorable. Here are some examples:

An American professional speaker describing what it’s like to speak for the Youth market: “You have to smuggle your messages in-between stories. You have to be like a motivational ninja!”

The Chief Financial Officer of an investment firm, after the Recession: “This time last year, you were lost in the forest and you were afraid, and you turned to me for guidance. What you didn’t know was that I was equally scared. But that wasn’t good enough. So we dug deep, and pulled on a hundred years of experience, and sought real answers. We found a glimmer of light in one direction and led you that way. We are proud to say that we are now emerging from the forest, and the choice we made for you was borne out as the right one.”

If you regularly watch the television show ‘Top Gear,’ you will have heard the mastery with which Jeremy Clarkson makes dry car facts come to life. Here are a few of his gems:

• “It was a bit like putting a sticking plaster on a leaking nuclear missile!”
• “Look at the way it’s shaped. It looks like a dog hunkering down to do its business.”
• “Most supercars make you feel like you’re wrestling an elephant up the back stairs of an apartment building. But this one is like rubbing honey into Kiera Knightley!”
• “This thing has so much torque, it could tear a hole in time!”
• “It’s about as feminine as a burst sausage!”

The next time you’re toiling away at a PowerPoint presentation, ask yourself whether you are creating impact, or simply listing facts. If you find you’ve done nothing but record dry details over sixteen slides, consider whether you can’t do better. You may want to try your hand at turning fact into impact. Your tools are simple: stories and metaphors.

Appeal to the imagination and you will be memorable. You will have impact. Your presentation will be the intellectual equivalent of Angelina catching your eye…and blowing a kiss!

How to Present Successfully

Delivering a presentation requires a lot of confidence, but the whole process is much smoother if you prepare well. There are several things you can do to make sure your presentation runs smoothly and has the effect you wish.

Firstly, think about the aim of your presentation. Do you want to provide information, or do you want to change people’s opinion of something? Are you presenting to a group of workers or to a group of board members? The aim of your presentation and your audience should influence how you present your information. For example, board members may just want concise facts and figures, whereas workers may need a more motivational presentation filled with stories and jokes.

A good point to remember is that no-one likes to sit through a boring speech. This means that dozens of powerpoint slides filled with text are out of the question, and try not to just read off a screen. If you can, memorise what you’re going to talk about or use some bullet points to help you keep talking. If your presentation sounds natural and you can modulate your voice, change your tone and make eye contact with members of the audience, you will keep them interested.

Practice really is key to giving a good presentation. It allows you to learn your subject well and prepares you for many eventualities. What do you do if someone asks a question during your talk? The more you practice the more confident you will sound because the presentation will become automatic. This allows you to focus more on being a good presenter on stage, on projecting your voice and thinking about your breathing.

Using props during a presentation is a great way to keep the audience interested. Pictures, flip-charts and cartoons give them something to look at and somewhere new to direct their attention. They can also help to emphasise your point and make what you’ve said more memorable.

Finally, make sure that you look the part on the day. Some presentations, for example to students, are informal and it’s OK to dress casually as the audience expects this. A presentation to board members on the other hand probably requires a suit. If you work in a creative industry a suit might look a little out of place. Again, think about your audience and the points you’re trying to get across and dress accordingly.