Presenting with Confidence & Impact

Are you a confident presenter or do you want to run a mile when you’re asked to speak publicly? This was the first question posed by our expert speaker Broadcast Journalist, Presenter and professional speaking coach Karen Witchalls-Plunkett last night at London Tech Ladies / Skills Matter.

On a fear-factor scale most people are at a 9 or a 10 whether it’s speaking for a minute or an hour. But the great thing is there are lots of ways to overcome anxiety.

I’ll share here a few tips from my own experience with presenting, favourite takeouts from yesterday’s session and info on how you can get Karen’s Hints & Tips presentation techniques toolkit.

Getting back to confidence — my journey

In senior roles, presenting is par for the course. You have to be able to put yourself in front of an audience whether it be in a boardroom or an auditorium. As a Product Director I’m now used to speaking publicly on a frequent basis: pitching ideas or presenting product roadmaps to executive stakeholders, doing a stand-up to announce a product launch on the office floor or sharing insights at technology conferences are just a few situations.

But I wasn’t always able to do this. Perhaps unusually, I started out in my career a naturally confident speaker. My young slightly-glib self thought nothing of talking to an audience and I remember way back in my first job presenting recruitment advice to a room full of MBA students without worrying in the slightest.

Lucky me! Well, that was… until, I attended some company training about giving presentations (oh the irony!) and in one of the practice exercises a friend and colleague made fun of my expression — we’d been told to adopt a sort of vacant expression and look at a point in the distance.

For many years my confidence about presenting was damaged by that comment. I was able to present to small groups but feared the podium.

Overcoming presentation anxiety

Here are some steps that worked for me:

  • Accept the mission, figure out the how later
  • Give myself time to prepare
  • Take ownership of the content
  • A little help from my friends
  • Practice practice practice

I joined Gumtree / eBay in 2013 to lead product for mobile. Surrounded by a supportive, forward thinking colleagues, and a great brand behind me I seized the opportunity to overcome my anxiety. I accepted an invite for a payments conference with a few months grace to get ready and decided I’d figure out the how later.

After some consideration I settled on a topic I felt I and my audience could get excited about - an innovative face to face mobile app payments concept. The idea had been floated a number of times so I consolidated the ideas into a drafted a presentation. Incidentally this is now patented and those involved recognised on that patent due to that documentation!

The biggest blessing working for Gumtree / eBay was the calibre of the people and the supportive culture. I told a couple of colleagues (a designer and a marketer) about what I was doing and asked them to help me. I received such great, feedback and this enabled me to hone the story, make it engaging and make my deck look professional.

Knowing that the delivery would be key and because I wanted to really prove to myself I could do a great job, I set aside a whole day at home to practice and refine my words for what was a 40 minute presentation slot with Q&A. I sucked up any reticence I felt to seeing myself on camera and practiced on video repeatedly until I was happy with what I saw. Over repeated iterations, my presentation technique was refined and I’d committed it to memory so much that it felt natural.

The next day I delivered the presentation with confidence to a large audience of professionals in Central London. I received great questions and applause and most of all I was happy knowing that I could do this again.

Find your voice

I truly believe that with the right practice and time anyone can speak in front of audiences and that it’s worth it.

“Make yourself known and heard”. Karen issued this call to action to the audience last night and it resonated with me. More people must share their knowledge and ideas confidently — I believe this makes for more democracy and diversity in thought resulting in better decision making through choice and and healthy challenge. This belief is one of the reasons why I’m a supporter and founding member of London Tech Ladies since women are often talked over or interrupted.

It was shown in a 2014 study at George Washington University that when men were talking with women, they interrupted 33 percent more often than when they were talking with men. (Original article here)

Privileged as a Product Manager as I am to work with an array of intelligent people from Sales and Marketing through to Design/UX, Data Science and Engineering I know that in different disciplines more introverted personality types male as well as female can be overlooked but it’s when everyone’s voice is heard that the best products get built.

Key session takeaway 1— focus on your mind and body

I didn’t go along to last night’s session expecting a work-out but that’s certainly what I got!

Perhaps Karen should become known as Ms Motivator because she certainly put us through our paces with physical exercises.

The exercises we did were designed both to release tension and to create an engaging posture for example:

  • Breath control exercises similar to meditation
  • Warming up the body — shaking out arms and legs
  • Posture — imagine a helium ballon over your head / hand placement
  • Making yourself big for confidence (refer to Amy Cuddy for the science)

She also had us tied up with tongue twisters — I felt like Audrey Hepburn’s My Fair Lady for a moment with Karen as our Professor Higgins helping us get our pronunciation clear!

And why all of this… well because only 7% of communication is about the content. The rest is non-verbal.

Key session takeaway 2 — preparation is key

Sounds obvious but how often do we act on common sense? As I was hosting and introducing Karen for this session I was able to see elements of her own preparation and one of the things that stood out to me was how intentional she was in her preparation. I call this out because I think it’s easy for people to fall into the misconception that it’s easy to present well for a special few people with natural talent. While some people can deliver an off-the-cuff speech, it’s great to remember that the professionals — TV presenters, politicians, industry leaders all work at their delivery, are often coached, because after all it’s a performance. Some elements covered that all fall under preparation:

  • Get comfortable with your content
  • Visiting the venue ahead of time
  • Practice and refine
  • Warm up physically beforehand

Thinking back to my own experience, giving time to prepare was what helped my confidence. I don’t always have to put in as much effort as I did then but it is important to be realistic about time and work back from there.

Importantly, if only 93% of communication is non-verbal then give yourself time accordingly to work on the physical and performance aspect of presentation. I wish I’d done a physical warm up before I introduced Karen to the audience, and I’ll definitely be doing this now before presentations and interviews.

More hints and tips from a pro

I hope that some of what I’ve shared here is helpful. Karen has very kindly created a free Hints and Tips Worksheet which you can get by emailing her.

Love to hear any thoughts, experience or tips on comments and if you like my writing please do follow.



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