Present Like a Pro

The Field Guide to Mastering the Art of Business, Professional, and Public Speaking

Cyndi Maxey, CSP, and Kevin E. O'Connor, CSP

St. Martin's Griffin

Chapter One

Aristotle Knew the Basics

Power is in the character of the speaker.

Power is in the speech itself.

Power is in the mood of the audience.

Why should you look forward to your next presentation? Because it’s an absolutely irreplaceable experience! You get back much more than you give---every time you present.

First, giving a successful presentation is great for your psyche; you feel good when you do well. It even feels good when you try new things and not all go well.

Second, it is a practical way to move up in your organization or circle of friends and associates. If you are good at presenting, people automatically think you are good at everything you do because they see you as a courageous person with not only high self-esteem but also high “act-ability”---someone who does things. People give a lot of credence to a speaker; often it’s simply because the speaker is up front and they are not! Standing up and speaking well are keys to your promotability quotient.

Third, you have personal power when you have command of an audience. To persuade a busy group of people to take notice of your message and to do something about it as a result ranks high on the scale of winning friends and influencing people.

The presenter’s power is great. In fact, your ability to use that power well was first prescribed in an ancient art form perfected by the Greeks---the art of rhetoric. Some of the most well known philosophy comes from Aristotle (384--322 BC), who believed that people have a natural disposition for the truth and who called rhetoric “the ability to see the available means of persuasion” on the speaker’s part.

The available means of persuasion for you are basically three elements: you, the talk, and the audience. That’s it. Everything you do is a carefully concerted blend of these three. Giving a toast to the bride and groom? It’s you, the toast, and the wedding guests. Addressing your new staff? It’s you, your notes, and a group of people who are wondering about you. Selling a key account? It’s you, your notes and visuals, and the three decision makers at the end of the boardroom table.

The balance of the three elements is key. Aristotle’s view held that character of the speaker, the emotional state of the listener, and the argument itself (the talk) all combine to achieve the persuasion. He said the speaker has three powers: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the power of personal character. Logos is the power of proving a truth through logic. Pathos is the power to stir up emotions in the listener. The best presenters find a way to use all three powers in the right combination: who you are, what you say, and how you say it.

Your character is in your shared self. The best presenters communicate naturally as real people. They don’t try to be someone they are not. One of our favorite professional speakers, a former penniless immigrant who is now a millionaire, is in demand today as a speaker because of the stories he tells and the many examples he gives of how he amassed his fortune. But he does it with little ego and lots of reverence for his friends, his beliefs, and his business relationships. All this is inherent in his character as he speaks. The audience believes him because of the power of his character.

Coach’s Comments

Question: How can I communicate naturally when my natural self hates to speak to groups?

Your coach says: Most people do! Despite your dislike of speaking, one way to bring out your natural self is in the opening. You can do that by using an approach that nobody else would use and communicating it naturally because you have really, really practiced! The more you practice, the more natural you will be. It sounds odd, but it’s true. When you think less about your words, you can think more about being yourself.

Your truth is in your argument and knowledge. How does a speaker find truth? Sometimes you may need to research and document to prove your points---in a sales presentation, for example. Other times you may not need intense research to support your thoughts. As long as you present evidence of the truth in the best way you know how, you demonstrate logos, or your reasoning. If you don’t present with reason, the audience will quickly dismiss you as unqualified to speak. A minister or priest speaks with the evidence of the Bible. A professor brings research and case studies. An introducer brings knowledge of the speaker being introduced. Any talk, no matter how long, is truth telling. The more clarity to the truth you tell, the more convinced your audience is of your message.

Your emotional appeal is in your audience’s hearts and minds. Of the three powers, this is the least predictable. You can learn to share your character and select your arguments more readily than you can pick up on the nuances of an audience. How will they react? What will they feel? What will they think? This power is perfected only by practice and listening to feedback---over and over again. If you really listen, you’ll realize that your audiences are talking to you all the time---before, during, and after your presentation.

The true pro becomes adept at continuously gathering this information . . . day after day, speech after speech. It’s best to avoid attempting to speak to any audience without first meeting them. Perfect opportunities include: at the dinner the night before, at breakfast the day of your presentation, moments before you go on. Your best opportunity is to approach audience members with a smile and a handshake and even ask the audience for their “burning questions,” questions that bring out what the audience really wants to learn from your talk. All of these are vital methods used by the most successful of presenters who never forget this essential third element.

A presentation is an exercise in the acknowledgment of power.

Copyright © 2006 by Cyndi Maxey