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Speak Easy

No matter how sophisticated the technology, the software or the finished presentation package, the presenter of the information--that's you--is still the star of the show. Whether you're making a formal sales pitch, giving a project update or having lunch with an important prospect, a polished delivery is critical in building and maintaining client relationships. Good presenting skills balance product knowledge and technical expertise with a style that is relaxed, energetic, expressive and focused. Here are seven ways to come across like a pro:

1. Stay loose. Tension in key areas like the jaw, shoulders and hands can quickly tie a presenter up in knots. Under the pressure of performance, many people try to control this tension by tightening up even more. Unfortunately, this only makes them appear cold and aloof or scared to death. Good speakers do their best when their muscles are relaxed and they feel comfortable. Learn to recognize where you hold tension in your body and relax those trouble spots before and during your presentation.

2. Connect with your audience. Talk to them in terms they understand and relate to. Look at them, watch for feedback and respond to their reactions. If they look puzzled or stare at you with glazed eyes, address their concerns right on the spot. It's easy to get caught up in your content--to concentrate on saying everything exactly the way you've planned it. But if you lose yourself in the content of your presentation, you'll end up losing your audience as well.

3. Stay open and take your space. The way you stand, sit and move says more about you than almost anything else. So eliminate any mannerisms that make you appear timid or look smaller than you actually are. Maintain an open posture at all times. When you stand, ground yourself solidly on both feet. When you sit, keep your elbows away from your sides and let your forearms rest easily on the table in front of you. Use your face, voice and body to express your ideas. Move with purpose. These positive actions will send the message "I'm confident, I'm comfortable and I know what I'm talking about."

4. Speak to be heard. Your voice is your vocal signature, so speak with conviction and authority. If your tone rises or your voice wobbles when you get nervous--stop! Take a deep breath, relax your muscles and start again. Above all, avoid the all-too-common tendency to let your pitch rise at the end of a phrase, giving the impression you're asking for permission to speak.

5. Tell stories. Great presenters illustrate their points with stories and examples that are personal to the speaker and relevant to the audience. Turn your personal experiences into stories that make a point. Practice them until they flow smoothly and your point is clear. Then, when the occasion calls for it, pull out one of your stories and insert it into the presentation. Storytelling makes presenting easy, and your audience will appreciate your personal touch.

6. Let your passion show. Homebased entrepreneurs are bright, knowledgeable and committed to a way of life that creates and builds energy. So share that energy with your clients--through your ideas, your words and your actions. Your clients won't realize your commitment to them unless you show them how you feel. You'll build lasting relationships when they recognize through your behavior that you're determined to help them succeed.

7. Don't forget to smile. Often, under the pressure of performance, presenters become grimly determined to get through the event. They forget they are communicating with real people who want a personal connection with the speaker. They forget to smile. A genuine smile expresses the pleasure you feel in being with your audience. When you're able to relax and let yourself shine, that magical connection is made. So smile, and let it happen.

Carolyn Dickson is a coach and consultant in speaking, business presenting, conflict management and professional presence. She is founder and CEO of Voice-Pro Inc. in Cleveland, and author of Speaking Magic: Performance Strategies for Winning Your Business Audience (Oakhill Press).

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