The return to offices continues to shed light on a number of workplace behaviors that could use some improvement — like employees’ presentation skills. Presenting virtually is far different than in person, where reading the room, paying attention to one’s body language, more actively engaging one’s audience and other factors must be considered. Demand for corporate training sessions on presenting are up as companies look to improve younger workers’ skills, but also a range of other staff who may lack the skill needed to advance in their careers, experts say.
Over half of companies are currently offering business etiquette classes in general and another 18% said they plan to offer them by next year, a ResumeBuilder survey of over 1,500 respondents holding executive or management titles taken earlier this year found.
And some employers are turning to rather unique methods of training. Instead of having them watch videos and complete online courses, they’re hiring actors to role play and perform how to properly handle different workplace scenarios.
“The link between the theater in the workplace is actually closer than you think, even the words that you use — your audience and your character references, your performance review, what your role is,” said Steve Hemsley, co-founder of Hendrix Employee Training, a UK-based firm that brings actors in to teach corporate workers presentation skills. At Hendrix, the session seeing the most demand now covers embodying confidence and professionalism during face-to-face presentations and is led by an actor.
“Being sort of confident in yourself and how you’re portraying yourself in front of customers and colleagues and clients can be quite underestimated,” Hemsley said. “Many people aren’t aware of how their presentation starts, not when they start speaking, but when they walk in the room.”
The session covers common acting tips that are applicable to professional presentations, like body language and how to engage an audience by creating an open dialogue and responding meaningfully to feedback.
It also covers speaking skills, including points like having the confidence to stop talking and say something important hang in the air, and when to emphasize certain words and phrases. Another important point is how to respond to one’s audience. For instance, if a viewer asks a difficult question during a presentation, whether the speaker matches their negativity or keeps their voice calm when responding, Hemsley said.
And despite concern about younger workers in particular lacking soft skills, they aren’t the only ones in on those trainings. Workers across all age groups may be nervous about their presenting abilities, ultimately limiting their ability to move up in their careers. As much as 30% of the general population may suffer from public speaking anxiety, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Thomas P. Farley, a business etiquette expert speaker and author tapped by companies to help train their employees, is also seeing boosted requests for the “Powerful Presentations” program he offers. Honing one’s storytelling skills and keeping an audience engaged are key areas he covers.
While people skills matter significantly, having a quality set of slides presented in a well-thought out order is ultimately equally important, said Kate Zabriskie, owner of Business Training Works Inc., a company that provides professionalism training courses for employers (without using actors.)
“If the thinking is bad, and the presentation isn’t linear, it’s not going to get better once you start talking,” Zabriskie said.
Making sure a presentation is cohesive and solidly laid-out is the first step covered in the Business Training Works course on presenting. Keeping stakeholders abreast of what a presentation will include and including them in big decisions beforehand is also a key point addressed.
“When they go into a presentation, and it’s a fairly significant decision, and nobody’s done any of the socializing of the issue ahead of time, then the presentation is a disaster,” she said.