The Right Amount of Energy

How do you liven up your business presentations without seeming over the top? By weighing yourself on an energy scale

We all enjoy being around people with energy. They inspire us. They are stimulating, fun, and uplifting. An energetic person has passion in his voice, a bounce in his step, and a smile on his face. Energy makes a person likable, and likability is a key ingredient in persuasive communications. Many business professionals underestimate the energy level required to generate enthusiasm among their listeners. But electrifying speakers bring it. They have an energy that is several levels higher than the people they are attempting to influence.

Most business professionals could use an energy boost for public speaking situations such as Webinars, podcasts, staff meetings, conference calls, and television and radio interviews. Each of these opportunities requires a higher level of energy than would normally be appropriate if you were just chatting to someone in the hallway. But how do you project the right level of vigor without seeming over the top? By weighing yourself on an energy scale. And on this scale, more is better.

The Energy Scale

Recently I helped an executive prepare for his first major presentation in his new role.

"Tell me where your energy is right now on a scale of one to 10," I asked. "One being fast asleep and 10 being Jim Cramer on Mad Money. You know, the guy who's yelling and gesturing wildly on his CNBC show. Where are you now?"

"A three," the speaker replied.

"O.K., what would it feel like to be a seven, eight or nine? Give it a try," I suggested.

If they're being honest, most presenters place themselves at a three to six on the energy scale. That means there is plenty of room to boost your energy while not appearing too zany. But keep in mind, once you hit a 10 or higher, you could be the next YouTube (GOOG) hit—which is not necessarily your top objective! Here are several surefire strategies to boost your energy presence.

1. Practice leaving your comfort zone. Record several minutes of your presentation as you would normally deliver it. Play it back, preferably with someone else watching and listening as well. Ask yourself and the observer, where am I on the energy scale? Now try it again. This time, break out of your comfort zone. Ham it up. Raise your voice. Use big gestures. Put a big smile on your face. Get to a point where you would feel slightly awkward and uncomfortable. Now watch it. Most likely your energy level will be far more engaging and still remain appropriate for the situation.

2. Smile and have fun. Why do most people seem to enjoy Virgin entrepreneur Richard Branson? Because the guy has fun and it shows. He always has a warm, engaging smile on his face. Of course, you can argue that it's easy to walk around with a smile when you're worth $4 billion! But seriously, smile. It won't hurt and it will make you more likable. Most business professionals don't smile as much as they should during presentations. I'm helping some executives prepare for CES, the big Consumer Electronics Show in January where they will announce new products. They get so caught up in the slides and what they're going to say (as they should during preparation), they forget that new products bring joy to their consumers. In most cases—with the exception of bad news, of course—the first and last thing you say to yourself before launching into your presentation should be, "Have fun."

3. Get your body moving. Many people are uncomfortable using expansive hand gestures. Don't be. I spoke to David McNeill at the University of Chicago, who is known for his research into gesture and speech. He says that clear, confident speakers use hand gestures and that the gestures leave a positive impression on listeners.

He went on to say that using gestures will help you speak better because for most of us it takes effort not to use gestures. Don't be afraid of using your hands.

AOL's (TWX) is one of my favorite video search engines. I use it to retrieve clips of business speakers to study their body language. Symantec's (SYMC) John Thompson, Oracle's (ORCL) Larry Ellison, Cisco's (CSCO) John Chambers, and eBay's (EBAY) Meg Whitman are excellent examples of people with confident, energetic body language.

4. Study TV and radio personalities. Stars of television and radio who score high on the likability scale have high-energy personalities. I had a conversation with Suze Orman over the phone a couple of years ago and remember it to this day. Her energy comes right through the speaker. What you see on her CNBC show is what you get behind the scenes. High energy. The other day I watched Food Network (SSP) star Rachael Ray sign books at a mall where I happened to be shopping. Sometimes critics poke fun at her "perky" personality and phrases like "yum-o," but the fact is she has energy and millions of viewers enjoy it. The network morning-show hosts are typically chosen for their energetic personalities. Today's Matt Lauer on NBC (GE) and The Early Show's Julie Chen on CBS (CBS) are excellent examples, but there are many others on morning television.

Remember, maintaining an energetic presence is very difficult to do unless you're involved with something you enjoy. If you are truly passionate about your company, product, or service, then show it. Speak with energy and vitality. Your listeners will love you for it.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.