In recent weeks, as working from home has become the new norm, platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype (to name just three!) have replaced standing at the top of the room when it comes to delivering presentations.
Irrespective of the medium, impactful presentations are engaging, well-structured, interesting, concise and persuasive. Effective presenters are poised, professional and have presence. That’s the theory, the daily reality is that the thought of doing a presentation makes many people sick with nerves. However, you may find delivering a presentation virtually is not as nerve inducing because you are in familiar surroundings without the eyes of a room upon you.
Poor presentations are all the same – too long, under or over-prepared, are excessively 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 an effective presentation is a skill and as with any skill, the more your practice, the more effective you become.
What do you want to achieve by the end of the presentation? What will be your evidence of success? Is it to obtain ‘buy-in,’ secure a sale, or simply to share information? Remember, a presentation is only ever a means to an end, so be clear on your end goal.
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 anyway. Ensure the audience knows what is expected of them, particularly if you are seeking input or 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.
“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 and doubly so for presentations delivered online.
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. The clue is in the term ‘visual aid.’
Try to talk with, not at your audience. To engage attendees, get your face on video so people can see you and ideally you can see your audience too.
Whilst you will use your slides as a prompt for what you are saying, remember to look at your camera, that red dot at the top of the screen. This is how you make eye contact with an online 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.
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 pauses 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.
If you would like more tips on how to present like a pro click the image below to get my free ebook.
If you listen to podcasts then do check out this episode of my podcast Your Time With James Sweetman where I talk about the traps to avoid when presenting and don’t forget to sign up below to join my community to receive my monthly newsletter with all my latest news.