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What Are the Qualities of an Influential Presenter?
By Chris King

This past week I attended three different sessions at an IT (Information Technology) Summit. Each of the presenters came from completely different backgrounds and positions and had completely different presentation styles and personalities. Yet all three had one quality in common.

I was so influenced by each of them, I left the Summit deeply concerned about security and lack of security - and I haven't been able to get those thoughts and fears out of my mind since. All three were powerful, influential presenters.

When we are asked to give a presentation - a keynote, a workshop, a sales presentation, or lead a meeting - one of our primary goals is to influence our listeners in some way. What are the tools, methods, attributes and attitudes that will help us to become powerful, influential presenters? Read on.

Have passion for your topic and goal if you hope to influence. I have talked about having a passion for your topic before, but I feel it can't be said enough. If we don't care about our topics, how can we ever expect to influence others? Even though the Summit I attended was intended for technology types, the presenter who was the most passionate and frightened me the most wasn't a "techie" at all. He was a writer and speaker about airline security. He started by pointing out that security strategy isn't any different from computer technology security. By showing the similarities of approaches and the need to think backward, "with the mind of a terrorist," he showed clearly that "security is security" and the more secure we think we are by creating additional layers of security, we aren't becoming safer. Before you accept a presentation assignment, be truthful about your passion or lack of passion for the topic or the product. You may be able to entertain the listeners, but without passion, you will never be able to influence them.

Being a knowledgeable expert gives credibility and creates interest and influence. It was obvious to me at the Summit sessions I attended that each of the presenters had, "been there, done that." I wonder if you have ever experienced a presenter who is obviously speaking about a subject that he or she has possibly read a few books about, but has never lived. An example is someone telling us how to start our own small business, yet has never started a successful business. The example often cited a young, recent graduate speaking to a crowd of CEOs about leadership. In the session that concerned SPAM, which, along with the inconvenience, comes with inherent viruses and the illegal use of stolen e-mails was presented by a lawyer who brought us up to speed on the legal ramifications and what is being discussed from a legal standpoint.

He certainly had both the passion and knowledge to influence us. In the session on "How Hackers Break in through Internet Applications," the presenter had the expertise to explain the why, the what, the where, and the how of retrieving dynamic information - in other words, our user names and passwords, our credit card information and even how to change and use our name in an on-line banking account. He obviously knew what he was talking about, not that he is a despicable hacker, but someone who has followed the steps and the thinking that goes behind these break ins. He made it look so sensible and straight-forward, it was scary and again has influenced me to check out the websites where I do interactive buying, selling and banking. How? You ask. Well, that takes us right into the next topic.

Make use of dynamic examples for influence.

  • The pseudo-hacker started by pointing out and, in a non-condescending approach (most in the room were developers), talked about why dynamic applications - including databases - are often vulnerable to hacking. He then walked us through two websites that on the surface seemed to be impenetrable (with firewalls and virus guards), but turned out to be easy (if you thought and worked like a hacker) to enter, change and from which you could gather all the information you wanted. I am not a developer of application code, but his hands-on examples were easy to follow and understand - we saw every step a hacker would take and try up on the big screen).
  • The lawyer started his presentation with a game of jeopardy, using numbers as answers. The numbers surrounding spam e-mails are staggering, but became even more so when we were involved in guessing what the answers stood for. We were influenced by knowing how many spams go out a second, how many fake addresses are generated and how much money the spammers are making (it works, that's why it continues).
  • One of the most dynamic examples was as unnerving, and yet as easy to follow as an example could be. The security guru for airline safety talked about all of the new layers of safety measures that have been initiated since 9/11 - the airport check-through lines, the undercover agents on the planes, the pilot's gun and the heavy security door to the cockpit that is bullet proof and locks from within the cockpit. He then walked out of the room, closed the door and proceeded to knock on it, until someone let him back in (people assumed that the door had locked him out). He then asked how many in the room had flown recently and had noticed that the heavy security door was open throughout the flight, or had been opened for the pilot to use the restroom at the back of the plane. He illustrated that in this situation we have made it easy for the terrorists. Now only one - not three - terrorist sitting toward the front of the plane who is quick and trained in the martial arts can dash through the open door, shut it to everyone else, surprise and overwhelm the pilot, take his gun, shoot those in the cockpit, and he is clear to fly the plane into any building he wishes. Were we all influenced by this demonstration? You bet.

You see, your examples don't have to be complex. They just need to be dramatic.

Be clear about your goal and the action and/or reaction you expect from listeners. Before planning and preparing your presentation - and, by now you know how important this part is - write down how you want to influence those attending. What action steps, thoughts, fears and/or lessons do you expect them to leave with, remember and be influenced by? I guarantee that this will be the exciting and powerful part of your presentation, as long as you:

  • Have passion for your topic;
  • Are an expert who has "been there, done that"; and
  • Use dynamic and dramatic examples.

Go for it and do let me know how it works for you. I love getting your FEEDBACK!

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