Jill Geisler: 9 tips for healthcare finance leaders looking to improve their presentation skills  

February 29, 2024 2:41 pm

Do professional public speakers get nervous? Absolutely — but they don’t let it show. 

That’s what I teach to both students and front-line leaders who want to be better communicators. I draw on my background. My first career was as a broadcast reporter and anchor before moving into management. Today, I moderate U.S. Senate and gubernatorial debates in my home state of Wisconsin. I know from experience that the way I deliver my message can make a difference in how well others learn, feel and engage.  

And that’s why it’s important to tune up our verbal skills. It’s not to impress others, though that might happen. Instead, when we communicate at our best, we are teaching and reaching people for their benefit. 

Tune up your presentation skills 

Here are nine tips to help you present your messages with authority and authenticity. 

  1. Command comes from comfort. The more comfortable you are, the more authority you project. Build that comfort by doing your homework. Practice telling someone about your topic before you turn it into a formal presentation. Teaching helps us master — and remember — our material. When we know our stuff, it shows. We can use notes or scripts to ensure we get across main points, but we’re not glued to them. Preparation is also important for introverts, who are more likely than extroverts to appreciate having a plan. Introverts are fully capable of commanding a room as compelling speakers, but they’ll probably appreciate a little quiet time afterward to recharge their batteries
  2. Body language matters. When nervous, we may sit or stand more rigidly or sway from side to side. These are signs a person isn’t in command. So loosen up. If you speak with your hands in everyday conversation, give yourself permission to do so when you’re speaking with a group. When on stage or at the front of a big room, use what I call “purposeful movement.” Step toward people to emphasize points. Move to different parts of the stage or room to make sure the people sitting there are included. You’re not meandering. You are intentionally connecting. 
  3. Look them in the eyes. Eye contact is important. If we keep our heads down in our notes, we’re sending a message that all that matters is on that paper — not in our heads nor in the audience. It’s OK to use notes but be sure to make eye contact for the most important points. Imagine this, you’re holding notes and glancing at them as you say, “I checked back over 10 years of our performance data, and know what?” Then you pause, look directly at everyone and say, “This. Is. Our. Best. Year. Ever.” Notice how I wrote that, too? As though each word is a sentence. That’s a great way to punch up key points. 
  4. Pace don’t race. Unsavvy speakers can dash through their remarks. But rapid-fire delivery undercuts your credibility and the ability of folks to take in your message. Nerves can cause this. So can overbuilding your speech. You’re so concerned about getting it all in on time that you speed up. Remember: When everything is important, nothing is important. It’s better to edit things out of your text than to speed-read. Express less important points briskly, and use pauses and tone for emphasis. Imagine saying, “One of the best skills we can develop as a leader … is listening.” As you say it, emphasize “best skills,” then after you’ve said the word “leader,” pause a beat before you say, “is listening.” And consider saying “is listening” in a quieter voice. When we pause and lower our voices, we draw people in. 
  5. Find friends in the crowd. Look for the friendliest faces in the room — those who smile and nod as you speak. Their positivity gives you a boost. That’s in contrast with those who look stone-faced or quizzical. Even if their dour facial expressions have nothing to do with their opinion of your presentation, you might think you’re failing when you’re doing just fine. Focus on the smilers. 
  6. Humor works — sometimes. Levity done well can add a lot to a talk. My simple advice is this: Keep it clean and not mean. If you have even the slightest sense that a joke could offend, hurt or just fall flat, don’t do it. When you know your audience and know that your clever quip or story is a perfect fit, go for it. And if you’re a successful leader, a small dose of self-deprecating humor can work well. It shows you’re comfortable enough to laugh at yourself.  
  7. It’s not the flub, it’s the recovery. Speakers make mistakes. We mangle words. We lose our train of thought. We drop our notes. The key is not to panic. If your error is evident to the group, acknowledge it and go on. It makes you human. But if only you know that you said something a little differently than you planned, move on and don’t let it distract you. Always think ahead, not backward, as you present. 
  8. Make technology a friend, not a foe. Never use PowerPoint as a teleprompter. Don’t be the speaker who loads slides with tons of text and then reads every word or keeps displaying a wordy slide while talking about something else. When that happens, whatever is on the slide competes with what you’re saying — and wins. Instead, use slides with mood-setting images, essential charts or a few words in large font to emphasize topics. Always think of slides as a backdrop, not the main event. That’s you. Technology also brings us virtual meetings. Everything I’ve advised so far can be applied to Zoom and Google Meet presentations. Use interactive tools like polls, quizzes, whiteboards and chats to keep people engaged. And please pay attention to your lighting. When virtual meetings took off, I created a short video for Loyola to demonstrate how facing into a window and using natural light can make a big difference in how you look. If you don’t have a window, use a supplemental light to keep your face out of the shadows. That’s not vanity; it’s courtesy. 
  9. Know how you’ll finish. With any presentation, it’s important to plan a strong close. Knowing how you’re going to end gives you confidence, like a runner who sees the finish line. 

Seek constructive feedback 

And here’s my big finish: Check your work with a friendly coach. Ask someone to record you presenting. Then review the video with a trusted colleague. Why? We may be our worst critic, needlessly. We might also be unaware of some bad habits. A friend can give you honest feedback about what worked and what needs work. Such feedback can build confidence and comfort — and lead to your next command performance.  


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