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As a leader, you are constantly “on” and selling yourself. When you’re discussing an idea with a colleague, you’re making a presentation. When you’re talking with a customer, you’re making a presentation. Sitting across the desk with the CFO or a frontline supervisor, seated around a table with four people on the Board of your HOA, or standing in front of fifty people at a Rotary meeting—you’re presenting. Whatever you’re doing and whenever the situation, you need to be comfortable in any situation where you might find yourself communicating, whether it’s in a formal or informal situation, in front of groups large and small.

A recent survey suggests there’s truth to the old saying, “What can go wrong will go wrong.” The Creative Group, a staffing service for marketing, advertising, and web professionals, asked 250 executives to describe their most uncomfortable presentation experiences. Those surveyed were asked, “What’s the most unusual or embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you during a presentation?” One said, “The client laughed because he thought our ideas were so bad.” Another said, “I recently lost a lot of weight, and when I got up to shake hands, my pants fell down.” Still another said, “I pulled out the wrong presentation and showed them a competitor’s instead.” One of my colleagues once accidentally stepped off the edge of the stage and fell onto the floor below. He sprang up and immediately quipped, “I will now take comments from the floor.”

I can only hope that something like these examples will not happen to you when you’re in a communication situation. Careful preparation can help prevent some problems but certainly not all of them. You can rarely plan for most things outside of your control, but you can control yourself and project a powerful, confident, professional image.

Let’s start by discussing the term “image.” I define it as “the picture you project to other people when you are talking.” Webster defines “image” as “a mental conception held in common by members of a group and symbolic of a person’s basic attitude and orientation.”

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