Recently I was asked to give a speech at a tertiary education provider that offered courses in business. I was in a list of other speakers who were faculty, academics, past students and other business leaders. The purpose of the presentation was to welcome new students to the school.
I asked to speak last as I prefer to give closing addresses. I would be speaking about presentation, how to present and prepare yourself, whether going for a new job or meeting a client. I had all my material and props ready and then settled in to watch the other presenters.
One-by-one, their speeches were focused on the school, emphasising the features and benefits that the education provider could offer. As academic after academic waffled on about the school, I could see the new students become less and less engaged and their attention wandering. As I saw it, this was the wrong message at the wrong time. The students had already bought in. They or their parents had already paid serious money for these students to be sitting here today. The constant reinforcement of the education provider was a waste of time. Basically, it was selling a product after the buyer had already bought. There is an old truism: “when digging a hole for yourself, you need to stop digging before the hole gets too deep and you bury yourself.”
Finally, I got up and spoke. The first thing I said was “Welcome!”. We were welcoming these students to a new chapter in their lives. Then, using props, I spoke about preparation and presentation. Dressing appropriately, grooming, having all the necessary pencil, pens, paper, tablet, whatever materials you needed. All the things required when making a first impression. I took one of the interns I have with me, a current student of the school, and he said that during my presentation, the new students’ eyes lit up. Not because of the props or quality of my speaking, but because the topic was of relevance to them. It spoke to them as fresh, new business students eager and hungry to learn and to get out into the world.
The topic I spoke to not only gave them relevance as budding members of the business community who were on the cusp of inheriting and eventually running our Economy, but it offered them real-world application. These were the tips and “lifehacks” they were hungry for to get them started in their new careers, finding jobs, networking and meeting people who can help them move up in their chosen careers. By presenting it in the way I did, using props, it was also a performance, telling a story. As I’ve previously discussed, everyone has a unique learning style: visual, audio and tactile. Speaking to people only delivers for one learning style, audio. By offering hands-on props, that approach was able to relate to those with visual and tactile learning styles. So rather than speaking to one segment of the audience, I was able to engage a much wider audience.
Over the years I’ve conducted a large number of interviews for a wide variety of jobs for a diverse range of applicants. For labouring or manual jobs, showing up in a t-shirt and muddy boots is not only perfectly acceptable, but pretty much expected. However, you’d be surprised at the number of times I’ve held interviews for corporate jobs where the candidates, interns and employment-seekers, have shown up without making the slightest effort to look presentable in a corporate environment. As well as that, coming in unprepared without copies of their CV, references or any documentation that they were requested to bring in.
Say you were to give me two candidates, fresh out of a business school: one of whom had stellar marks and one who had average marks. The one with the stellar marks showed up in a shirt with the sleeves rolled up, shorts and maybe sandals. Maybe they had been drinking late into the night before and wore sunglasses to hide dark circles around their eyes. The one with the average marks shows up in smart shirt and pants/skirt, holding a compendium with all the necessary paperwork at hand, even if they didn’t need it. Chances are, I might go for the candidate with the average marks. Because I know that person has made an effort, has indicated by the time and effort they took to look presentable and prepared that they want this job and that they are prepared to work. And at the end of the day, the hard worker will often succeed over the talented individual.
By taking the time to consider the perspective of your audience and making the effort to look and be presentable, you can increase the effectiveness of your presentations by many times over.