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How to nail a challenging presentation

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Seven lessons from the Chancellor’s Budget Statement

The annual Budget Statement by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the House of Commons is arguably the most challenging presentation imaginable. It’s the perfect storm of presentation hell: hostile audience, intense scrutiny, high expectations and the vultures circling overhead ready to pick over the carcass of the presentation for days to come. The pressure on Rishi Sunak to deliver a slam-dunk of a speech was further heightened by it being his first Budget Statement, as well as his ironic billing as ‘Box Office Rishi’, a man with a real stage presence.

1. However nervous you’re feeling, try to appear relaxed

The Chancellor was clearly apprehensive about his presentation and, while he slightly stumbled over his opening words, he was quick to tell an amusing and self-deprecating anecdote to warm up his audience. Giving a good presentation requires acting skills, or at the very least, the ability to convey confidence even if you’re not feeling it.

2. Adopt a confident physical stance

Body language is said to account for around 55% of the overall delivery of a message, so think carefully about your physical presence. Rishi Sunak spent much of his time leaning on the despatch box with one arm, giving him a rather hunched and one-sided appearance. With the TV cameras looking down on him from above, I found my attention being drawn to the straightness of his hair parting rather than the substance of his words at times.  The best presenters have a commanding but non-threatening physical presence, with plenty of eye contact and natural rather than contrived body language.

3. Ensure you have some supporters in the room

Going in to any challenging presentation will be much harder if no-one else is on your side.  Whoever your audience is, try to have at least one other person in the room who is batting on your team, or at least is happy to give you a fair hearing. If the atmosphere becomes combative you can call upon them for support.

4. Get the level of detail right

The Budget Statement is a challenging presentation to deliver as it is dense in detail and full of figures. Whatever the content of your speech, think carefully about the level of detail required by your audience and be careful not to overwhelm them with data. This will also help to ensure that you don’t need to read directly from a script as Sunak was forced to do. Fluent delivery and frequent eye contact are important for engaging your audience and holding their attention when you need to indulge in detail.

5. Use impactful visuals

Clearly the Chancellor doesn’t have the option of using visual aids in his presentation, but strong imagery and graphics are very useful for driving home important points and making your content more appealing and memorable.  Don’t be afraid to surprise your audience with your choice of visuals, using humour or unexpected pictorial analogy for emphasis (see our recent post on sourcing images for more inspiration).

6. Acknowledge the problems and address them head-on

If your presentation requires you to tackle difficult issues, don’t try to brush them under the carpet or dismiss them lightly. Acknowledge the problems and make sure you address them adequately; your audience is more likely to respect you for it and engage sensibly in the discussion rather than going on the attack.

7. Don’t be rude to your audience

However tense or difficult things get, don’t lose your cool. In the political arena it is almost de rigeur to be rude to the opposition, but regardless of the temptation to react emotionally or stray into making personal remarks, take a deep breath and remain professional at all times. It’s a far better way to neutralise your opposition and showing anger will only help you lose the argument.

Without getting into the politics of the Budget Statement, as a presenter I’d give Rishi Sunak a six out of ten, with definite room for improvement.  The good news is that, however difficult your next challenging presentation may be, it’s unlikely to be as difficult as his was, especially if you follow our advice!

For more information, contact us via info@companyapp.co.uk.

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