Buy The Book: “The Exceptional Presenter” by Timothy J. Koegel

The Exceptional Presenter“Every time you open your mouth to speak in public, you are a public speaker.” – Koegel

It’s easy to forget how often we really present at work. It’s not just those rare occasions where we are asked to stand up in front of a large group of people. It’s every time we are speaking with our co-workers, regardless if it’s one-on-one in the hallway or with a small group in bona fide meeting room. In short, it’s every single day.

I was a Communications & Marketing double major in college, and an IT consultant for 13 years before moving into corporate IT three years ago. So, presenting has always been something I’ve strived to be better at. After all, no matter how good you are, you can always be better. So when an instructor of mine recommended this book to our class as “essential,” I ordered it the same day, and I am so very glad I did.

In 165 pages, Koegel walks the reader through every aspect of presenting, from basic presentation structure to posture and voice control. I learned more about proper presentation skills from that book than I did in four years of college and nearly two decades of practical experience.

Koegel devotes the first two chapters to selling the reader on why it is important to be an exceptional presenter, and he does a darn good job of it. Most people probably don’t consider the cost of “average” presentation skills to not only their career, but also to the business. To move forward and affect change, you must be able to sell your ideas to your audience. Good presentation skills drive our groups, departments, organizations and ultimately our business forward.

“Those who practice improve. Those who don’t, don’t.” – Koegel

Koegel spends chapter nine, “Practice,” convincing the reader on the importance of practicing their presentation skills. Unfortunately, practicing our presentation skills is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when we get home in the evening, unless we are scheduled to present to a particularly large audience in the near future.

I decided to do the next best thing, and have been working on “fixing” at least one poor habit of mine each week while at work. For instance, I have a habit of keeping my hands in my lap while in a meeting (that’s bad… page 66). Generally, I do that because I’m freezing and I’m just trying to stay warm. Keeping your hands on the table though makes you appear more engaged in the conversation and interested in what others have to say. It’s that subtle body language nobody ever thinks about until you read it in black and white and think “…oh yeah, I do that.”

“Keep it short. Keep it focused. Keep it relevant.” – Koegel

In chapter four, “Organized: Structuring Your Story,” Koegel  instructs the reader on how to design a presentation so that it not only conveys the necessary information, but also keeps the audience’s attention throughout. Sometimes, that means being brief and not speaking any longer than absolutely necessary to drive home your point.

Koegel provides an excellent idea in the book, encouraging the reader to write down the key points of their presentation, and then compare that with how much time you have been allotted. If you have only two points to make, do you really need thirty minutes to do so? Attention spans are short, so efficiency in communicating your message can be much more effective. If you have extra time, engaging the audience in a discussion will do wonders for their retention of the information you are trying to convey.

I think that idea can be extended to the use of PowerPoint in a presentation. Sometimes I wish PowerPoint had a 140 character limit like Twitter… any more than that and you might as well send everyone an email to read later.

The goal of any good PowerPoint slide should be instant recognition. That is, the second the audience sees the slide they should be able to quickly discern what the speaker is going to be discussing. That way they stop paying attention to the slide and focus on the speaker instead. Slides are a great tool when they are used to recapture attention as you walk through a presentation, but distracting if they try to convey too much information.

“Do not accept average when you can be exceptional.” – Koegel

Koegel starts and finishes his book by encouraging the reader to be exceptional. The effective socialization of ideas is critical to success in any large organization. Exceptional presentation skills are a key part of that and certainly beneficial to your own personal brand as well.

There is certainly a substantial amount of information in his book to absorb, so putting it all in to practice overnight is probably unreasonable even for the best of us. If you take just a few pointers from the book though, and incrementally improve your presentation skills, you’ll be well on your way becoming “The Exceptional Presenter.”

Footnote
After reading “The Exceptional Presenter,” I figured I could apply some of those same techniques to being an “Active Attendee” as well, and tried something new during a leadership meeting. Looking around the room I saw 12+ managers staring at 12+ laptop screens (I was one of them). I decided that, much like texting while driving, “it could wait.” I closed my laptop lid to focus on those that were presenting. Though I wasn’t one of the managers presenting that day, I felt I could at least provide a source of eye contact for those that were. Sometimes being an “Active Attendee” is just as important as being an “Exceptional Presenter.”

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