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By: Carla Etheridge

Today, I attended my first Atlanta PRSA seminar, “Your Communications Power: It’s Not Only the CON of CONtent, but also the CON of CONnection,” led by owner and founder of McClain Communications, Inc., Brenda McClain. In an engaging and intimate session attended by communications professionals from agencies, nonprofits, and corporations, along with independent consultants, Brenda shared tips for refining presentation skills based on her real-life experiences.

Working in a field where there is constant pressure to deliver an immaculate presentation – whether it’s leading a strategy session with a client, giving a professional talk or holding an internal meeting – I was excited to learn some pointers from an industry expert.

Here are the biggest takeaways I left the seminar with:   

  1. Know your audience. Communication is not “one size fits all.” You must understand your audience and tailor your message and delivery towards them. For example, strong body language might resonate well with some groups, while it may cause others to shut down. Equally important is your voice, which Brenda declared our most underutilized tool. We all have a natural voice, but the ability to adjust it – volume, tone, and rate – is invaluable. Being naturally soft-spoken, this was an important message for me and something that I’ll practice going forward. 
  2. Ditch the deck. Just as you must identify your audience, it’s equally important to make a connection. Most of us have been trained to use a deck, but it’s not mandatory for delivering an effective presentation. Rather than focusing on the board behind you or a memorized speech, connect with the people in the room. Make eye contact. And, if you must use PowerPoint, be sure to establish a relationship with your audience first. Once you have their attention, you can turn it on. I’m not sure that I’ll, personally, ever be able to go deck-less, but maybe one day.
  3. Brief is best. The average attention span is now less than that of a goldfish. In a world that’s distracted by iPhones and the Internet (I know I’m guilty), it’s important to keep your speech as short as possible while still getting your message across. Brevity is also imperative when it comes to choice of words. Instead of using complex words that could make you “sound smart,” choose ones that are concise – clarity is key!
  4. Bring yourself. This was the recurring theme throughout the session. The biggest thing you can bring to your presentation is, in fact, yourself. You are the narrator who shapes your audience’s thinking. Brenda noted the “90% Factor” – only 10% of your impact can be traced to words, the other 90% is attributable to something else. She predicts this is conviction/sincerity/genuineness and likability.

It’s important to deliver strong and quality content, but the connection you make with your audience is what will set you apart. Presentations can be scary, but with proper practice and preparation, we can all become presentation pros in no time.