Most planners don’t think of themselves as a salesman, but the job of a meeting planner requires many of the same skills.
To some degree, many professional jobs have a sales component, and presentation skills are critical. “Meeting planners are constantly selling: ideas, locations, venues, events, and, most importantly, themselves,” says Craig Harrison, a speaker, trainer, and founder of Expressions of Excellence!, a speaker and sales consulting service.
“Strong presentation skills are vital for establishing credibility, professionalism, and building trust,” Harrison adds. “They enable planners to persuade, negotiate, promote and sell. If you can put on a good show in a presentation, it stands to reason that you can help plan a great event.”
Meetings industry consultant Corbin Ball, CSP, CMP, agrees with Harrison about the importance of presentation skills for meeting planners. “We are selling ourselves and promoting our ideas. There are many situations where strong presentation skills will help meeting planners, like pre-conference meetings, on-site staff meetings, group announcements at events, and in volunteer roles for professional associations. It can’t hurt to feel comfortable with public speaking.”
Improving Your Skills
The most common presentation mistake is talking too fast, says Carole B. Rosenblat, an independent on-site meeting and tour manager who now helps train planners on speaking and making presentations. “You have to concentrate on slowing down. If you’re timing your presentation, remember that it will probably be shorter than when you practice because you’ll probably talk faster than you realize.”
Here are some more tips from the experts for improving presentation skills:
Know your audience. “Research the profile of attendees and their objectives and know what their hot buttons are,” says Bonnie Walsh, CMP, CMM, a meetings consultant and frequent speaker at industry events. “Customize your presentation to them as much as possible, rather than using a cookie-cutter approach.”
Be confident and enthusiastic. You’ll have difficulty conveying your message convincingly if your listeners sense that you don’t have confidence in yourself. Don’t be tentative or apologetic; remember that your listeners probably won’t even notice if you make a mistake. Just move on to your next point without stammering or apologizing.
Don’t use language crutches. Harrison urges speakers and presenters to use what he calls power language. “Avoid qualifiers, hedges, and other figures of speech that dilute your message and diminish your impact and expertise.” Examples are words like maybe, if, possibly, perhaps, and consider.
Learn from others. Identify people whose communication and presentation styles you like and become a student of their success. This can be famous people or simply others in your office or industry. “Listen carefully to these speakers and critique them to learn what techniques they use to engage the audience,” says Walsh.
Join professional speaking organizations. Experts are unanimous in their praise of Toastmasters International for anyone serious about becoming a better presenter and speaker. Harrison has been in Toastmasters for 18 years and considers himself an evangelist. In “The Professional Toastmaster,” a quick-start guide he has written, he states, “Through Toastmasters, you can get mentoring, coaching, evaluations, feedback, support and lots of practice.”
Include examples and personal experiences. “This is the best way to engage the audience,” says Walsh. “People like hearing stories sprinkled in with facts, figures, and statistics.”
Maintain intense eye contact. The natural tendency is to focus on just one or two people but tries to maintain eye contact with everyone in the room. Also, don’t be over-reliant on presentation materials and spend too much time looking at a screen with your back to your audience.
Have a firm conclusion. Otherwise, it’s easy to ramble on and not know when or how to wrap things up. You want to leave listeners with a powerful idea or thought. Ask yourself: If they forget everything else you’ve said, what’s the most important thing you want listeners to remember? Then craft your conclusion around this.