Effective presentations are engaging, well-structured, interesting, concise and most importantly persuasive. Effective presenters are poised, professional and have a presence.
That’s the theory, the daily reality is that the thought of doing a presentation makes many people sick with nerves.
It’s often quoted how more people fear speaking in public than they do death. But in reality, would you fear delivering a eulogy at a funeral more than being in the coffin?
Bad presentations are all the same – too long, poorly prepared and paced, are overly reliant on slides crammed with text and are delivered in a tone that saps the energy from even the most enthusiastic audience member. Of course, no one purposely sets out to deliver a poor presentation, but delivering effective presentations is a skill and in the words of the late Maya Angelou ‘when you know better you do better.’
What do you want to achieve by the end of the presentation? What will be your evidence of success? Presentations are always a means to an end. Is that end to obtain ‘buy-in,’ secure a sale, or simply to get agreement to meet again?
Know the 3 or 4 key things you want to communicate during your presentation. Make sure you hit these core messages several times. An audience is unlikely to remember more than 3 or 4 key points. Ensure the audience knows what is expected of them, particularly if you are seeking decisions from them.
Who are you? Are you credible? Why should I care?
Unless you are already known to the audience, they will want to learn something about who you are, so they can decide whether to engage with you or not. They will engage when they feel they can trust you and when they sense you care about them.
Audiences listen to radio WII FM – What’s in it for me? As a presenter, you have to link what you are saying with how it is of benefit to the audience. In that regard all presenters are educators.
“I wrote him a long letter because I didn’t have time to write him a short one.”
This quote attributed to Winston Churchill is equally relevant for presentations.
Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication; keep your slides simple, minimal words, beautiful images. One slide for every three minutes you are speaking is a good timing guide and no more than 5 or 6 bullet points per slide.
If possible bring each bullet point up separately, so the audience is not reading ahead, but focused on what you are saying. Use colour and graphics to keep things interesting, but you never want your slides to detract from what you are saying, remember they are a visual aid.
Try to talk with, not at your audience. Buzz words, clichés, jargon and emotionless business speak will make the audience switch off. Of course, reading from slides wastes everyone’s time because an audience can read for themselves.
As the presenter, you breathe life into your presentation. Use simple language, share your own experiences and opinions, speak from the heart as well as the head.
All audiences want presenters to be interesting, informative and ‘entertaining.’ They want you to be comfortable at the top of the room.
An audience will forgive you for being nervous (it shows you care) but they won’t forgive you for being boring.
Great presentations take the audience on a journey; you tell them a story with a beginning, middle and end.
You speak about how challenges were overcome, lessons learned and how everyone lived happily ever after. Or in business terminology, you balance realism (how things are) with optimism (how things could be.)
Know the first two or three sentences that will come out of your mouth – plan your opening, whether it is an introduction, highlighting what you plan to cover, or posing a question to get the audience thinking.
If you’ve delivered presentations in the past, you probably felt that after a minute or two you got into the flow of it. Knowing your opening will help you bridge that gap.
Bookend your presentation by knowing exactly how you plan to close, that is, the last sentence or two that you will utter. And close with something more engaging than ‘any questions?’ Even turning it into a sentence ‘I’d welcome any questions you might have,’ is stronger.
Skilled presenters use silence and pause to add to the effectiveness and polish of a presentation. Short pauses, one or two seconds are for the simple purpose of separating your thoughts.
All you have to remember is to slow down. Give the audience a chance to absorb what you are saying. Long pauses, more than two seconds are very powerful. They prompt the audience to think about what you just said. It is also a way of regaining the audiences’ attention.
Don’t stress out about forgetting everything you plan to say. Audiences will never know what you didn’t tell them! Studies show that people forget 90% of what is said during a presentation.
What audiences take away is how you made them feel and the actions they were inspired to take.
The best presentations are conversational in tone and the best presenters are the best of themselves. They tap into their strengths and communicate with the audience in an easy, elegant way that is consistent with their sense of self. In other words, they demonstrate authentic leadership.
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