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Monday, March 19, 2012

Positive Leadership: Improving Your Presentation

In 2009, Haroon Mirza’s start-up, CognoVision,  was named most innovative company by the Canadian Innovation Exchange. He attributes the accomplishment, at least in part, to the pitch he delivered prior to being awarded the prestigious title.

Shortly after winning, Mr. Mirza’s facial-recognition software business was purchased by Intel for millions of dollars.

The pitch may be an art, not an exact science, but Mr. Mirza has a few simple techniques he says can help anyone improve their public speaking:

Say the pitch out loud as many times as possible in advance

Mr. Mirza always thought Steve Jobs was the best presenter in the world. “He looks so natural. I remember I read somewhere that he spent more than a month preparing for every presentation, and it made me think that if Steve Jobs spends that much time preparing, how does anybody wing it?”

If forgetting lines and feeling self-conscious in front of an audience are two things that make a presenter nervous, go through dry runs to get used to the content, allowing greater flexibility to articulate it, and familiarise yourself with performing.

You don’t know all the answers

And that’s all right. Meticulous preparation is important, and being able to answer any questions from prospective investors, venture capitalists or anyone else for that matter, speaks to a presenter’s confidence and knowledge of a product. However, not knowing all the answers does not mean failure.

“If someone asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, do not attempt to make it up on the spot,” Mr. Mirza advises. “These people can smell BS and as soon as they do, you lose credibility. The best way to handle the situation is to be honest; saying something like ‘I don’t have that information at the moment but I’ll look into it immediately and be sure to follow up.’”


Seriously. Mr. Mirza thinks of it as investing in yourself. When researching the people he thought were the best public speakers – Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs – he noticed one thing they had in common was that they were well-read. Exposure to so much material likely helped them articulate their own.

“So I started reading more, I expanded my vocabulary, I learned how to better articulate my ideas, and I think in this way the presenter earns the respect of the audience.”

Storytelling as a competitive advantage

The audience feeds off the energy of a presenter. When the speaker is nervous, so is everyone else in the room. A confident, measured delivery can help a presenter maintain control. That’s why Mr. Mirza tries to make each presentation like telling a story.

“Say you’re presenting to a venture capitalist. If you’re a great storyteller, you transfer that enthusiasm to the audience and you get them feeling involved in what you’re saying. Excellent presentation skills are an unfair advantage; when you’re really good and you make it look easy, it’s unfair to everyone else who has to present against you.”