Want to be viewed as a leader? Then get up on stage and present like a boss.
A presentation tests your mettle in any number of ways, from your ability to inspire others to how you work under pressure to whether you can translate information into action. It can bring out your best — and worst — instincts, serving as a microcosm of the “real world” and how you’ll perform in it.
Here are five ways giving a presentation will put your leadership skills to the test and help you truly present like a boss.
1. A Presentation Tests Your Strategic Sense
A presentation isn’t a demonstration of how much you know. We all know lots of stuff. A presentation reveals whether you can:
- Prioritize the most important content and filter out the non-essential information;
- Translate sometimes abstract ideas (like a vision or mission) into concrete terms your audience can relate to and act upon; and
- View and capture it all in a meaningful “big picture” framework that people will understand.
Show me a presenter who has trouble thinking and communicating strategically and I’ll show you one who probably can’t lead effectively.
2. It’s a Measure of Your People Skills
In the dating scene they say if you want to judge someone’s character, observe how they treat the wait staff.
A similar dynamic is at work when leaders give presentations. At a conference, for instance, you’ll have a small army of people supporting you. Do you treat them well? Do you respect their time? Do you thank them for their help?
This goes for the AV people, of course — the ones working behind the scenes advancing your slides, hooking up your microphone, lighting the stage. But it also extends to any staff helping you develop the content.
Do you give clear direction and timely feedback? Or do you put it off until the last minute, throwing them into a frenzy with endless (often inconsequential) changes to your slides and content?
Remember, all these people are there to make you look good — it’s in your interest to motivate them, not demoralize them.
3. A Presentation Reveals How You Respond to Pressure
Say you’re giving an important presentation and the projector breaks down. Or a fire alarm goes off. Or your time gets cut in half when the schedule backs up.
How do you react? Do you freak out? Cast blame? Act like a deer in the headlights?
Or do you take it in stride? Act graciously? Improvise?
All these situations have happened to me. And while I may be stressed on the inside, I work to project calm confidence on the outside.
Being the cool head at the center of the storm is an essential leadership trait.
4. It Tests Your Ability to Inspire and Motivate
It’s pretty simple: leaders require followers. Are you able to rally the troops, get them on your side, inspire them to act?
A great speech can help you do that. The key is to:
- Understand your audience and fine tune your content to their needs;
- Show empathy and make an emotional connection;
- Listen and respond thoughtfully to their questions;
- Invest your ideas with a passion that’s contagious;
- Use stories to teach and inspire.
It’s all about getting out of your head and making the experience about them, not you.
5. A Presentation Builds Your Confidence and Authority
Giving a speech offers an important feedback loop — for better or worse.
When it goes well, the audience’s response can help you validate your ideas and build your confidence.
And when it doesn’t … well, that’s helpful too, even when it’s tough to take.
Putting yourself in the spotlight on a regular basis gets you outside the echo chamber. It forces you to take a stand, defend your beliefs and, hopefully, rise to the occasion. Which will help you project greater authority.
Ready to Present Like a Boss?
Too often I see leaders fail to take their presentations seriously, treating them as an after-thought, or assuming they can just “wing it.” And it shows.
But the ability to communicate is central to any leader’s effectiveness. And there’s no better proving ground than getting up in front of a crowd. So put yourself out there — like a boss — and exercise those muscles that will serve you well as a leader.
[A version of this post originally appeared in PRSA’s Strategies & Tactics]