Susan Huskisson has personally trained some of the world’s top CEOs, giving them the confidence, credentials and charisma to present. She now teaches personal presentation skills to business schools and corporate executives around the globe. Her book “Easy Eloquence” continues to be a bible for would-be presenters for both senior managers and school students. Susan was one of MCE’s key faculty on presentation skills for over three decades.
MCE: Having good presentation skills certainly can give people an “edge” in the career. Why don’t we place more emphasis on this in schools and colleges?
Susan Huskisson (SH): The US educational system places a great deal of emphasis on communication training. Students have to present from a very early age. Increasingly, European schools are requiring students to learn to present. I have taught presentation courses in graduate MBA programs in the US and Europe for many years now, and see the number of these training is increasing, especially in Europe. Since people tend to listen to presentations instead of reading reports, the skill to inform and convince verbally will become even more important.
MCE: The ability to create trust when you speak to an audience, especially your employees or team is hugely important. What’s the key thing to make sure you get right – every time?
SH: KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! Why would they trust a speaker who clearly does not know who they are addressing? ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL.
- Show the audience you took the time to tailor that presentation for them specially.
- Give them facts, evidence/examples that relate to them. And, of course, be honest.
- Up and open body language tends to make people like and trust us as well. So, make sure the message is targeted for the audience and that the body language has good eye contact, posture, open gestures and an animated face. And don’t forget to walk the talk. Actions can speak louder than words.
MCE: You must have made thousands of presentations, what for you was the biggest learning experience, and why?
SH: How important it is to be prepared – but how impressive it is to be able to let go of the preparation and go with the flow instead. Sometimes events are out of our control (no fault of the speaker) and the audience appreciates someone who can deal with the situation with humour and grace.
MCE: Great orators seem to be rare these days (their words are instantly forgettable). Who would you put at the top of your list as a man or woman of today (not yesterday) who can reach out and touch people?
SH: My favorite has always been Billy Graham. Whether you share his religious beliefs or not, he has an amazing ability to move his audience. He is not dramatic, as many evangelists are, but modulates his voice, uses gestures and animation, and tells great stories that capture and motive his audiences.
MCE: Finally, we are buried in a tsunami of digital overload. Any thoughts on how to turn off the world – should we even try, or just surrender?
SH: In terms of digital overload in our everyday lives, we couldn’t turn it off if we wanted to. But for presentations, I stress to speakers – YOU are the message – not PowerPoint or any other technology or software you may use. Start with a blank screen and from time to time, blank it again and just TALK to your audience. Put the projector and screen on the side so that YOU take center stage. This puts you, the presenter, up front and center (where you should be). It gives the audience a break from the normal presentation digital overload – and lets you connect with your audience directly.