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Mason MBA Students Get Top Tips on Powerful Presentations

“You can do it.” That was the message from communications strategist Ted May to the 100 newly minted Mason MBA students at a recent seminar on effective business presentations. Here are some of May’s tactical and immediately applicable tips—all certain to improve your personal presentation style and impact.

Know your audience
“Audiences are like light,” said May. “They’re made up of individual photons that move in waves.” If you start to lose some, you lose many. If you win a few; you win them all.

Tactical tips
• Contrary to most advice, May says don’t look at your audience. Do look at the people—at individuals.
• Keep your pulse on the wave. Don’t be afraid to see how individuals are reacting.
• Isolate and energetically reach out to individuals.  Your effectiveness begins with reaching one person.

Strong arms, big photos--engaged audience

Strong arms, big photos–engaged audience.

Love your audience
There’s a reason so many comedy routines start with some version of “Hey Philadelphia… I love you!”

Why should you love your audience? Well for starters: They’re human; they’re your guests; they’re there to listen to you and they want you to succeed. “Plus, they have such low expectations,”says May. “It’s not hard to make them happy.”

Tactical tips
Want to be there: Get to the presentation early, explore the space; declutter to remove distractions; rearrange if necessary.
• Stand with arms relaxed at sides, palms out, feet shoulder width apart—to radiate an energy that says “I’m here and I’m here to help.” “You may have heard people advocate for the ‘power position’ (standing with hands on hips), but after a while that just looks foolish,” says May.
Rehearse. But no videos or mirrors. “Practice in front of pets or stuffed animals to create the sensation of audience. And practice over music. According to May, it lends an irresistible rhythm to your presentation patterns.

Engage your audience
More than 75% of people admit to being terrified of public speaking, says May. But, he contends, it’s not something you have to live with. “I opt for fight, not flight—but fighting with style and technique.”

Ted May shows new Mason MBA student Mike Buonocore how to own the room.

Ted May shows new Mason MBA student Mike Buonocore how to own the room.

Tactical tips
Own the space: Make yourself big. Don’t hide behind the podium. Stand with the audience center stage. Move into the audience—towards a person. No roaming about from side-to-side.
Tell a story–with energy and enthusiasm: Stories enhance empathy and motivate cooperation. (And apparently actually elicit the production of oxytocin.) “There’s always a story in the data,” says May. “Set it up so it can be played.”
Design your PowerPoint for the guy in the last row: Slides should have immediate impact–at least 30 point type. Images should be big. No more than six numbers per slide. (That rule alone would significantly up the quality of most presentations!)

Love + Engagement + Energy = Charisma
And remember, May advises, it’s not about you. Don’t think about you or your speech. Think about the message. Ask yourself three questions:

1. What do I want to say?
2. What do I want the audience to remember?
3. What five words do I want them to take away?

“Your goal is to reach your audience; to transform them, to move them to action.” And you can do it.

More presentation insights from Ted May.

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Janet Palmisano

Janet Palmisano is a member of the Recruiting and Admissions team at the George Mason University School of Business.

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