How to Excel at Important Presentations

Man on top of mountain. Conceptual design.

Man on top of mountain. Conceptual design.

When faced with especially important presentations, managers frequently tend to employ a coach to optimally prepare for and deliver a successful performance.

So what exactly makes an efficient coaching in these cases?

The common approach is training. In other words, we let the coachee present their case and give them feedback. Then we repeat the process and alter the elements we think will make for a better presentation.


However, there is one major drawback if this method is used exclusively: Even if the coachee in question has practiced a new kind of stage appearance for two, three or even four times through coaching exercises, it may be a far cry from mastering these skills on a subconscious level. This will result in a situation where the individual is faced with a room full of public attention but, unfortunately, is not able to focus on the audience, because the focus is on trying to perform the practiced lessons “just right.”

But especially when tasked with very important presentations, it is imperative for any lecturer to accurately register how the audience reacts to their performance. This means that the speaker’s energy has to be directed outward at about ninety percent. No more than ten percent of the energy should be directed inward. However, if you’re constantly busy trying to consciously control your appearance, this energy distribution is literally turned inside-out (or rather, outside-in) or balances at a fifty-fifty state at best.

So if you’re completely preoccupied during a presentation with considering how you should stand, what gestures to use and which to avoid, what to say, and what not to say, you won’t stand a chance to get in touch with your audience. That way, you lose the most important feature for a successful presentation right from the start – to take the crowd by storm, to win them over by drawing them in. You will also not be able to detect your adversaries in the audience or what may still be needed to take your presentation to the next level.

The question is: how should a gifted coach deal with this problem?

I believe that a client who wants to adequately prepare for a presentation must be able to rely on an unconscious strategy in addition to the consciously practiced skills so that their subconscious may automatically provide them with what they need to present themselves in a convincing and confident manner. It is only then that clients can direct their attention to the audience without having to think about how to perform “just right.” That way, they can focus on the outside while resting assured that important processes will run automatically on the inside.

Some great tools to develop these unconscious strategies are provided by certain techniques from the Erickson tradition, especially through a method called “pseudo-orientation in time.” This approach is very successful and often manages to bring about a solution within a single session.

Together with the coach, the client develops a strategy for the presentation or difficult conversation at hand, which is then anchored on the subconscious level so that this behavior can be successfully evoked in the real-life situation. That way, even difficult situations can be dealt with, in some cases even more successful and better than the client had imagined before. This was for example the case with a manager who was asked to conduct a three-day conference, but had severe problems with being at the center of attention – and then for a whole three days! With the help of “pseudo-orientation in time”, he rose to the task and thanked me with these words: “In real life, the event and the result turned out much, much better than in your office! I got a standing ovation! I would never have dared to imagine!”

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