Engage with your audience by making eye contact. Smile. Beware of furniture—it has a gravity of its own. These are just a few of the tips presented to Denver MBA and Professional MBA students during the communications boot camp Oct. 26, which was part of Peak Week programming at Daniels. Gail and Bruce Montgomery (Executive MBA 2013) of ExperienceYes put the students through a series of exercises to help them improve their presentation skills.
“This is one of the single most important skills in any business—communicating effectively in front of a group,” Bruce said. “We used to be professional actors, so we know how important it is to hold the attention of an audience,” Gail said. “This skill is critical regardless of whether you are presenting to your manager or pitching a business plan to an investor. It matters.”
The sessions were active. Bruce and Gail would convey various techniques and then the students would have to practice. In one of the morning sessions, each student had to give a three-minute talk on their most memorable vacation.
It sounds easy enough, until they’re told that five audience members will have a hand in the air, and won’t put it down until the speaker makes eye contact with them for five seconds. In addition, someone will record the talk with a smartphone, so that the speaker can watch themselves afterward.
“These smaller low-fidelity settings were still nerve-wracking for someone like me who struggles with feeling comfortable getting in front of others to speak,” said Allie Lazerwitz, Denver MBA student. “By working on specific aspects of a presentation during these sessions, I was able to learn so much and practice these skills—like maintaining eye contact with people in the audience, moving around while speaking and using appropriate tone and inflection in my voice.”
After each student presented, they also received feedback from their peers and the ExperienceYes facilitator.
“I don’t think anyone ever enjoys listening to themselves,” said Anna Steuart, Professional MBA student. “However, it was certainly helpful and is a technique I’ll continue to use when practicing for presentations. The live feedback from peers was also great—for example, I learned I look out the window when thinking of my next thought. That’s something I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed.”
The students had to present three times during the day, each time focusing on a different area and providing an opportunity for improvement.
“We provide them the tools on how to make a great presentation,” said Gail Montgomery. “By the end of the day, they’ll have tools and information, but they need to practice it and make it authentic to them.”
“The day was wonderful, for someone who is very comfortable speaking with and storytelling with friends. My heart races whenever I am required to speak in front of a large group for a presentation,” Steuart said. “Gail and Bruce discussed and demonstrated techniques—both physical and mental—that I have already put into practice at work and personally.”
ExperienceYes was brought in as part of the Peak Week programming, which is part of the Professional Growth Agenda for the Denver MBA program.