Business Delivering a good presentation - Observations from the TV show The Block S16 E25

Not all of us want or choose to be public speakers. Yet sometimes we find ourselves having to present in public. This is particularly true for anyone in the business world who wants to sell something, promote their business or get ahead of the competition.

The “Block Heads” (TV Show “The Block” contestants) found themselves in this very situation this week. The challenge was to work with their Real Estate Agent to create and then present a marketing campaign to sell their house.

Most of us can relate to Jade when she was asked how she felt about presenting. She said “[I feel] sick, I hate public speaking, it’s like the worst thing I have ever done in my life”. I love talking to people,... I love being social but when you get up in front of people it’s completely different. I was at the point that I was so anxious I was crying”.

Why was Jade so nervous? Well the Block contestants had to prepare and present photos, video and copy about their homes in front of their peers and to the Domain (Real Estate) Super Group - Mitch Armstrong Director of Sales, Emily Murren Director of Marketing, and, Alice Stolz National Managing Editor of Domain - at Shelley’s HQ.

According to these judges the winning campaign needed to 1. Whet the appetite of as many buyers as possible - Alice Stolz, 2. Create a great emotional connection - Mitch Armstrong, and, 3. Capture attention and stand out - Emily Murren.

So how did the Block contestants go? What did they do well and where did they fall short in preparation, appearance, confidence, whetting the appetite, creating connection, and capturing attention? What can we learn from their efforts and outcomes?

The Block Heads all took different approaches, and some were far more prepared than others.

Sarah and George appeared to be the best prepared saying that they were “prepped” and “we are on it”. According to Sarah, once you have done the prep, “the best presentations are those that are winged”. Hairdresser Jade and her husband Daniel were the opposite. They were putting off preparing for their talk because of nerves, which only caused them to experience even more nervous energy.

Others had varying levels of preparedness. Tam reckoned “usually you need alcohol to do these things”, and said Jimmy was “pooing his pants”. Luke took a more practical logistical approach and asked the producers “Can you just run out there and make sure everyone is naked”.

So, should you wing it, get drunk, poo your pants or ask everyone to remove their clothes so you can give a great presentation? None of this sounds like a good idea to me!

The lesson here is to be prepared.
Preparation is your best tool for getting your message across well and with confidence.
Your nerves will take over if you are unprepared and feeling stressed.

Start by writing down every idea that comes to you. Think about:

  • What do you want to say
  • What your audience is expecting to hear
  • What you are comfortable talking about, your preferred topics and your areas of knowledge or expertise
  • Clear and key take-aways you want your audience to leave with

Then tidy up your notes and place your points in a logical sequence.

Write out your talk in point form. Avoid writing it word for word. You can get stuck while presenting if you forget a word or lose your place. It is a much safer strategy to memorise your main points and then talk to them.

It is okay to use notes if you need them, having them with you can be comforting. Just remember to keep them brief and in point form. Also make sure they look presentable, as a crinkled old piece of paper does not create a professional and confident image.

Then practice and time your presentation at least a few times.

Don’t “wing it” or leave your preparation to the last minute. While professional speakers can indeed wing it due to years of practice talking on the same topic, for the armature, winging it can be disastrous. Look what happened to Harry and Tash. They had to deal with unexpected plumbing problems on the way to give their presentation which meant that they had no time for last minute prep. Luckily, they had already put a good amount of time into preparing their presentation. Unexpected situations often occur in business so prepare early so last minute problems don’t undermine your success.

Dress for comfort and confidence

Scotty informed us that this was the first time the contestants had presented their homes to real estate experts and so everybody wanted to impress.

Luke, who often works as a model, admitted that he does not get nervous speaking in public but acknowledged that their audience opinion mattered and so you need to give a good presentation and dress well.

School teacher Sarah, also comfortable speaking in public, confirmed that she had her prop “smart-arse” reading glasses and gifts for the judges ready and that George was prepped. Sarah was not nervous, she was ready and confident saying “we are good, we are on it”.

Sarah, Tash and Tam all wore glasses to look smarter, and Alice Stoltz commented to Tash “love the props of the marketing glasses, very on point.”

Most of the contestants dressed up for the presentation. There was not a fluorescent shirt or work boot insight. They mostly went for a relaxed, professional look.

The main questions to ask yourself when choosing what to wear to present are:

  • What look is appropriate for the topic, situation, function and venue?
  • Who is my audience? How will they be dressed and how will they expect me to dress?
  • What will make me feel comfortable, confident, approachable and professional?
  • What clothing will express my personality and support the message I want to convey?
  • What is my company persona, and what image does my company expect me to convey as part of their values and norms?

The correct look is the one that best meets the above criteria. It could be jeans and a company T-Shirt for a tech conference, a business suit for a shareholders meeting (only if this is your company norm), or relaxed professional for a real estate presentation.

Note that research on clothing shows that those who wear business suits are perceived as less trustworthy, more conservative and less approachable, and those that dress to show personality that fits with their business persona and industry is better received. Wearing a suit when you aren’t comfortable in one, will ultimately affect confidence, so don’t presume this is the way to go in the modern world. As a general rule, smart/casual is the most well-received business attire today. In addition, big consulting firms like JP Morgan, Deloitte, PwC have ditched dress codes stating they are a symbol of an age gone by, are classist and stifle creativity. It’s definitely time to ditch the suit if you can!

Confidence Presenting

When Scotty asked how confident the contestants were in their television skills, only Sarah and George raised their hands. Shelley reminded them all to “put on a presentation of a lifetime, one to remember” and left them to get on with their tasks.

Harry and Tash were the first to present and Tash appeared prepared and confident. They started with introductions, a joke away from the lectern, and then moved to the lectern to show their photos and video. Tash used a clear, even-toned , well-paced speaking voice. Harry used notes that were brief and he read professionally from his tablet. Jade complemented Tash by saying “she took to that stage and knew exactly what she was doing”. Tash and Harry were well prepared and weren’t even phased by George munching loudly on popcorn while they were presenting. They paused to smile and maintained eye contact with the judges throughout their presentation and their body language was relaxed and natural. Jimmy commented that “Tash was a natural” and commented “we are going to see Tash on TV a lot after this”. At the end of their presentation, they received a round of applause and the other contestants complimented their presentation. Shelley said that it was “very well done”.

George and Sarah were next up. They started from behind the lectern and Sarah spoke in a relaxed manner even incorporating jokes, for example, that George would not be speaking as he was recovering from a bad haircut. Sarah spoke clearly with good articulation and speaking pace while George controlled the slides and video. Sarah said that she channeled her teacher, her public speaking skills, and used notes very effectively. Both let their personality shine through and it was obvious that the audience enjoyed their presentation. At the end, Shelley commented that their house and their presentation had “heart, soul and plenty of character”. Alice Stolz said she “loved the injection of humour into it and your personality”.

Now it was Daniel and Jade’s turn. To begin with, it was very hard to watch. Jade was obviously nervous and nerves were really getting the better of her. Jade even commented later that “it was horrible, I felt like I was going to throw up”. Luke said that “she was legit terrified”. They had not prepared who was going to use the clicker and so there was some back and forth getting themselves ready at the lectern and then a few false starts before they even introduced themselves. Scott described Jade as “nervous and reluctant” and this, coupled with nervous giggles and talking amongst themselves made the judges uncomfortable and we saw their peers wriggling around in their seats as the room was full of nervous tension. Thankfully Jade and Daniel settled down as they started talking about themselves. Their earnest nature and passion for what they were saying really created a connection. Tash commented that “they put their heart and soul into it” and that “everything they do just feels so much like them”. Jade was crying at the end, not due to nerves but due to a strong connection with everything they had said in their video. Emily Murren and Mitch Armstrong praised them, saying it was lovely. Scotty congratulated them on getting through it and doing a great job and Jade said she was “super proud”.

Confidence presenting in public comes with practice but there are some tricks and techniques that you can use to help you “fake it till you make it”. Especially important is being prepared, practising, and dressing appropriately as discussed.

There is also a lot you can do to manage your nerves. Jade used positive self-talk telling herself “you can do it, you can do it” and took deep breaths to calm down. This is a really good strategy to help with nerves. Another good idea is to talk about yourself and your life experiences as this is content you are comfortable with, know well and won’t forget.

Other useful tips are:

  • To arrive early so that you are familiar with the venue and audience and can set up calmly
  • Take a walk, move or exercise beforehand
  • Avoid caffeine so that you are not hyped up or shaky
  • Dress in breathable fabrics so that you don’t perspire
  • Speak in a calm tone and at an even pace so you don’t work yourself up more
  • Learn and use a mindfulness technique that you enjoy and can use to calm down
  • Breathe slowly and steadily
  • Look at people in the audience and make eye contact - they will smile at you and make you feel less stressed
  • Don’t read your speech word for word – it stops you lifting your head and connecting with your audience

From my experience the audience is usually on your side, they want you to do well and to learn from you. They will enjoy your presentation if you do.

Use of technology

The clicker, running the slide show and playing the video also created a challenge for some of the other contestants. You should always be prepared with a backup so you are able to continue if your slides, video or mic has technical issues.

Luke and Jasmine said they had fancy outfits, a fancy speech, lots of fancy words and a fancy clicker. Little did they know the clicker was going to create a problem at the beginning of their presentation and would be dubbed ‘Click Gate”. They turned the screen off, sped through slides and started playing other peoples slides. Luke admitted, “we showcased everyone's houses in our presentation”. There were a lot of apologies and they were distracted so were not able to get their message across as well as they could have if they had used the technology well. Unfortunately, this made the judges uncomfortable and they looked frustrated. At one-point Scotty yelled out “give the clicker back”. Thankfully Luke and Jasmine’s video finally played and it presented them as confident and professional.

Finally, it was up to Jimmy and Tam. Jimmy relied on notes but was comfortable and confident in his presentation. He was dressed well and used positive body language and hand gestures. Tam appeared less confident and wriggled and leaned on the lectern but they used the clicker well and obviously enjoyed their time presenting. Jimmy and Tam put plenty of their own personality into their presentation and video, so it went down really well with the judges. They definitely captured our attention and Alice Stolz commented that their presentation “really encapsulated what you are doing in the home”. Mitch Armstrong congratulated them on their non-traditional approach.

There were some important lessons to learn from the use of the clicker when it comes to using technology when presenting. The most important is to prepare and practice the use of technology as you prepare and practice your presentation. Always arrive early to make sure that the audiovisual (AV) equipment is working properly and that you know how to use it. Prepare for technical faults by having a backup plan in case the AV is not working. You should in theory be able to continue with your presentation without slides or video, should you find yourself in such a situation.

If something goes wrong with the media while you are presenting then stay calm and take your time fixing it. When you are presenting a second can feel like an hour but don’t worry - it seems longer to you than it does to the audience . If you can’t fix the problem within a minute or two, move to another area on the stage to divert the audience's attention from the screen and carry on presenting without your AV. If your presentation is good, the audience won’t mind that there aren’t visuals to accompany it.

Winning the challenge

In the end, the winners of the challenge were Jimmy and Tam as they met all three of the judge’s criteria and gave an enjoyable and informative presentation. However, from a presentation point of view, all the Block Heads were winners in some way and we can learn a lot of good presentation points from them.

For me, the key to delivering winning presentations are:

  • Prepare your presentation and media use well and early
  • Get to the venue early and make sure you are comfortable in the space
  • Avoid nerves by avoiding caffeine, moving around and breathing calmly
  • Dress to appear confident, comfortable and in alignment with your profession, industry and company vision
  • Pause while speaking to smile and look at your audience
  • Speak in a clear and steady voice, don’t rush
  • Use appropriate body language and hand gestures
  • Use appropriate humour and talk about yourself
  • If you need to use notes then make sure they look tidy and professional
  • Keep your notes to point form so that you don’t just read your speech
  • Try to move around the stage and avoid hiding behind or leaning on the lectern
  • Emotionally connect with your audience and talk from the heart

And finally, don’t forget that you set the mood for the room. If you appear nervous and stressed then others will feel uncomfortable. If you are unprepared or disorganised then your audience will feel frustrated. If you are closed off and lack emotion then your audience will not connect to you or your content.

The more prepared and comfortable you are then the easier it will be to keep your thoughts clear, your emotions in check and the presentation from getting away from you. The more organised you are then the more likely you are to be well received, considered knowledgeable and professional and to get your message across. This way you can be sure to meet the challenge of giving a good presentation.

Vanessa works at ShireWomen as our Sponsorship, Events & Membership Manager, and often presents at our events. A long-term member of National Toastmasters, Vanessa has served in various executive committee roles and won a number of Area and District Speech Competitions. Vanesa has facilitated and co-presented a number of Toastmaster Speechcraft public speaking training courses, and, co-developed, co-ordinated and co-presented a Rotary Youth Leadership Speaking Program for 15 years.