Facing a touch situation, or trying to win over a hostile audience?

Powerful presentations come from the leader within

By Peter Urs Bender

Public speaking is the number one fear people have--higher than death and taxes. Now imagine having to speak before an annual meeting where: Would you want to present to a group like this? You may not want to -- but you may have to. So what can you do to leave a lasting, positive impression with your audience?


To make powerful presentations, you must be "connected" with your message. The more you are intimately familiar with your topic -- the more you believe in it, feel it and want to share it with others -- the more powerful you will be in presenting it.

Think of two speakers. One is talking about a subject they've learned, the other is talking about something they've lived. What is the difference? the first one's knowledge is second-hand, based on someone else's experience. It is more cerebral, intellectual. It may have good ideas, but doesn't leave a lasting impression. The second one's account is more likely to stay with you. It's not about something; it is something. It contains emotion, natural humor and insight. The more a speaker draws on his or her own reservoir of experience, the better the presentation. The same is true for leadership.

The most powerful leaders are those who first lead themselves. Textbooks and business schools, help. But having vision, passion and the courage to take action are what count most. These qualities reside in each of us.

Thus, leadership and power presentations are intimately connected. Powerful leadership comes from knowing what matters to you. Powerful leadership comes from knowing what matters to you. Powerful presentations come from expressing this effectively. It's important to develop both.


After years of studying people -- in my work in management, sales, training and now coaching of CEOs -- I have come to several conclusions: There are five essential steps to being a leader-from-within.

1. Know Yourself

Plato said it about 400 BC. Stephen Covey, Anthony Robbins and the top professional speakers are saying it today. "Know your own values. Listen to your heart." Leadership is much more than directing others. It starts with leading ourselves, by understanding what's most important, doing the right thing, and having integrity -- an honesty and consistency in what we think, say and do. That is why the most effective leaders are those who lead by example.

A good demonstration of this is Peter Munk, chief executive of Canadian-based Harsham Corp. Not long ago, Munk apologized at an annual meeting for his companies failure to enhance shareholder value. That is a mark of real leadership.

2. Have Vision and Passion

Vision is an inner picture of something that has not yet happened. The CN Tower, domed stadiums, the personal computer, cellular telephones, the business empires of Conrad Black and Jim Pattison -- each began with an idea. Just as a builder needs a blueprint, you need to have a mental picture or feeling of what you want to do. These guide the strategies and actions you will use to make it real.

One way to identify your vision is to look at what ideas keep popping into your head, or what your heart is "calling" you to do -- whether that is inventing a better technology, providing the highest quality service, or creating a safer, healthier, friendlier society to live in. Yet, having a vision is not enough. You must also have the passion to make it happen.

What do you feel strongly about? What do you want to tell people about any chance you get? These are signs of having a passion. Other words for describing it are: desire, motivation, mission or purpose. Each speaks to a feeling or an energy within us that propels us to do something new. Passion is the force that puts ideas into action.

3. Take Risks

Would you buy a company that had worldwide sales of $700 million in 1994, but only $300 million in 1995? Probably not, based on its track record. yet, that's exactly what Michael Cowpland of Corel Corp. did when he bought WordPerfect last year. Despite growing competition from Microsoft "Word," he believed that, with some changes, WordPerfect would be "the world's best word processor" and he took the risk to make it part of his software empire.

Some people, like Cowpland, enjoy taking risks. That doesn't mean they're always successful -- they just know they have to do it because all growth depends on it. In a survey of 100 North America's top entrepreneurs -- people like Ray Kroc, Walt Disney and Mary Kay Ash -- it was found that they failed an average of 7 times before becoming successful.

Taking risks is about taking action on what we believe, being willing to change how we think and what we do. It's shifting paradigms, making decisions, keeping commitments, speaking candidly, and sharing power with others. In each of these, we risk losing something we value: old ways of thinking, money, position or others' approval. Overcoming this fear makes us leaders.

4. Communicate

The need to communicate has never been more important. If you don't believe that, think about Bill Gates.

Prior to the worldwide launch of Windows '95, Gates hired some of America's best consultants on speaking. He learned to communicate on camera, and to improve his presentations in front of groups. The difference was like night and day. he now displays the same quality and professionalism as a speaker that Microsoft has become famous for in its products.

The same need exists in almost every organization. Staff at all levels are expected to represent the organization whenever they communicate. "Selling" has become veryone's responsibility.

Daily, we deal with more information than ever before -- meetings, telephone conversations, letters, proposals, E-mail, the Web, and on it goes. Therefore, good communication skills -- both verbal and written -- have become essential to our success.

5. Check Progress and Results

If you saw the movie Apollo 13, or have seen a spaceflight on television, you'll remember the staff at NASA's Mission Control who are responsible for monitoring the "telemetry" -- the data coming back from the spacecraft. They monitory everything -- where it's going, its speed, the firing time of the rockets, the oxygen in the cabin and the condition of the spacecraft; even the astronauts' temperatures and heart rates are watched.

In business, we need to monitor the telemetry of our organization. We need to check the numbers -- income, expenses, production and resources. We also need to check the people -- morale, health and well-being of staff, as well as customer satisfaction. We need both the "good" news and the "bad." This information gives us essential feedback. It tells us if we're on target; whether we're meeting the needs of those we serve; and whether we're likely to fulfill our mission, vision and goals. If we're not on track, the information helps us make vital changes "along the way" to correct and improve our actions.


As an executive or manager, you must frequently make presentations to get your ideas across to others. Your success depends on your ability to communicate effectively.

In my speeches and book, Secrets of Power Presentations, I outline five quintessential elements of a presentation:

   1. Speech
   2. Body Language
   3. Equipment
   4. Environment
   5. Preparation

Think of it this way. Would you have a "power presentation" if you:

   *have nothing to say? (speech)
   *look like you do not care? (body language)
   *show computer graphics and your PC does not work? (equipment)
   *have a room so hot that your audience is falling asleep? (environment)
   *forget to prepare your presentation (preparation)

Since I can't describe all of these here, I'll focus on the content of your presentation.

A speech has three objectives: to inform; to entertain and touch people's emotions; and to move them OT action.

The length of your speech is not important, but getting the message across is. Since most meetings are behind schedule anyway, the shorter your speech, the better. Don't fill time -- use it! Time is the only nonrenewable resource.


The biggest problem most presenters have is knowing what to say. They have not taken the time to be clear with themselves -- and, therefore, cannot and will not be clear with others. Before your next presentation, practise saying your three or four most important points in 60 seconds. Then try it in 30 seconds. This exercise will help you identify what is essential, how to say it clearly. It's also good to practice for your media interviews.

Next, make your talk relevant to your audience. What's in it for them? Why will they care or want to listen? Remember to build that in, and use language and stories to which your listeners can relate.


Always begin your presentation by smiling. It is the simplest, most powerful way you can communicate. If you are genuine, it gives warmth, sincerity and confidence.

Start with something that gets your audience interested and attentive. Then every so often (say every three to seven minutes), put in some humor. I highly recommend, however, that you do not tell jokes. Instead, tell a story from your own experience -- perhaps a problem you've faced, a customer or client you've served, or something stupid you did. (If you think you never did anything stupid, ask your partner.)

As you draw upon your experiences, your own emotions will surface naturally. Convey them sincerely, and your audience will feel the way you do.

End on a positive note. A good presentation should follow the MMFG AM formula: make me feel good - about myself. We all need reassurance that we are good human beings, in control of our lives, and able to cope with life's challenges.


Up to now, you have given your listeners the facts. You've built trust and rapport. If you've been convincing, asking them to take action would be the next logical step.

Before the speech, ask yourself: "What is the one thing I want people to do in response to my speech?" Do you want your audience to approve a new direction for the business? Do you want your staff to take a new attitude about their work? Do you want your shareholders to buy more shares or give their support in other ways? Then say so.


A speech is more than just words. It conveys feelings, believability and enthusiasm. It's a statement that you believe in your management team and your staff, and in what your company does. These are "commodities" that can be neither bought nor sold, but for which people hunger. the more you develop them within yourself, the more you can give them to others.

Be sure not to read your speech. Read your audience! too many yawns, glazed eyes and inattentive faces mean you are not connecting. Afterwards, ask for feedback -- or better yet, tape yourself and listen to it. The more you know how you did, the more you can improve the next time.

It's also important to watch your body language. Are you hiding behind a podium? Are your movements angry and threatening? Do you look like you don't care? Stand up. Be seen. Reach out. Be intimate, not intimidating. Show them the confidence that led you to get this position in the first place!


If you're faced with presenting to a hostile audience (like the ones I described at the start of this article), let me say that I don't envy you. It's never easy. However, here are a few suggestions on how to go in prepared and come out with praise -- even from your toughest challengers.

   *Face the facts. First, you as the CEO or manager have to come to terms with your company's situation. the facts are the facts. Whether you are afraid or at peace with them is what you'll communicate through your words, voice, emotion and body language.

   *Deal with the negatives head on. Begin by presenting the facts. If necessary, get help to prepare professional graphics/slides or computerized visuals that present information clearly and simply. Help your audience see where the company is and they will appreciate your honesty.
   Next, tell them how you feel about where the company is going. If they know it concerns you -- if they feel your feelings -- they'll be more understanding and less hostile. When people feel you're masking the truth, or lying outright, they really get upset. Then find the real positives. What gives you hope for the future? Communicate it. If it inspires you, it will inspire others. Leave them with a sense of hope.

   *Listen and Hear When shareholders, employees or customers are disgruntled, what the want most is for someone to listen to them, their worries and frustrations. Instead of trying to tell them everything's rosy, when you all know it's not, hear them out. If their ideas seem crazy, do not simply reject them. See if you can build on them. They may hold clues for increasing satisfaction and company profits.

   *Relax. Breathe into your abdomen, and feel the feelings in your body. This will increase your blood flow so your hands won't be as cold and clammy. It will also improve your voice so you'll sound more confident. To get help with this one, look under "Relaxation" in your telephone book.

   *Find your passion -- and share it. People want to feel good, so give them your enthusiasm: why you believe in this company; where you want to go in the future; what you're prepared to go to get there; and what help you need from them to make it happen. Remember, everyone is responsible for where the company is, not just you.

   *Practise beforehand. Know what you're going to say, and practise smiling, breathing and speaking with power. Rehearse using your computer or slides so you know they work, and if you're up to it, try it out on your family, friends or staff.

   *Smile and keep perspective. Find something in all this to smile about. the world is not going to end because of this -- it just seems like it! Be compassionate within; don't "beat yourself to a pulp."
   Then take a risk. Say something new, different or unexpected -- even have a little fun. That may sound crazy, but finding some humor in the midst of a mess, you could turn a near-funeral into a resounding success.

Peter Urs Bender is one of Canada’s most dynamic and entertaining business speakers. He lives and works out of Toronto. He is the author of four best-selling business books: Leadership from Within, Secrets of Power Presentations, Secrets of Power Marketing, Secrets of Face-to-Face Communication, and Gutfeeling.
To read excerpts from his books visit