Present Like a CEO

By Heather Baldwin

Few communicators are more compelling than a passionate, persuasive, articulate CEO. What if you could harness those same speaking skills in your own presentations? You not only can, you must, says Suzanne Bates, author of Speak Like a CEO: Secrets for Commanding Attention and Getting Results (McGraw-Hill, 2005). “The smartest people aren’t necessarily the ones who rise to the top. They’re the ones who can communicate well,” she explains. “If you don’t learn to speak like a leader, you are in danger of being passed over for your dream job.” So how can you learn to communicate like a big cheese? Follow these seven recommendations from Bates.

1. Add speaking to your to-do list. If you want to become a better presenter, you have to make time to work on your skills. The only way to do that is to block out time on your calendar or you’ll just keep putting it off. It’s like telling someone you ought to get together for lunch. If you don’t set a specific date and time, it doesn’t happen.

2. Assemble your team. There’s a reason Academy Award winners always have a long list of people to thank during their speeches – it’s impossible to achieve that level of performance alone. The same is true for learning to speak like a CEO. You can’t do it on your own. So gather a team who will support you in reaching your goals. Some people who can help include a speaking coach, wardrobe consultant, comedy writer, fitness trainer and voice coach.

3. Treat personal coaching like a fitness program. A CEO once observed that attending speaker coach training is a lot like going to the gym. You might not enjoy it going in, but you feel exhilarated coming out. For the greatest success, approach your training as you would a fitness program – pick a goal, make a plan, tell a friend and track your progress.

4. Get into top physical condition. While you’re at it, get in top physical shape as well. A high level of fitness gives you energy, makes you feel relaxed and gives you confidence. You sleep better and feel more mentally sharp. You also look better, says Bates, which sends a strong message about your self image.

5. Shake things up. Push yourself beyond your limits of comfort to see what you’re capable of during an actual presentation. Don’t be afraid to fail. Some of Bates’ ideas for raising the bar include stepping out from behind the podium, speaking without notes, using a prop, telling a funny story about yourself, being candid and saying what everybody else is thinking and accepting a speaking engagement at a major conference. “There are countless ways to shake things up,” she says. “Doing so will stretch your mental muscles.”

6. Keep going. Sometimes you’ll be disappointed by a presentation you gave. You’ll wish you said something differently, wish you’d handled a technology failure better, wish you hadn’t rambled as much – whatever. The key is to let it go. Learn from the mistakes and get back out there. “These missteps can provide prime material for your next presentation!” says Bates.

7. Enjoy your presentation. If you enjoy presenting, it will come across to the audience. The key to enjoying talking in front of people is to excel at it. Generally, people love doing what they’re good at. Become good at presenting by following Bates’ recommendations and you’ll find you enjoy standing in front of an audience.