When you have been asked to give a presentation how can you make sure you make the most of the opportunity? Steve Campion of Toastmasters International shares the steps that he believes will take your presentation from ponderous to powerful. Follow them to make an impact and keep your audience interested throughout:
Know your audience
Think about the reason you’re being asked to present, the size of the audience and what they may already know about the topic. Nothing induces boredom more than explaining something that someone already knows. Or causes more confusion than assuming they know all the acronyms and jargon that you’re using. The most useful approach is to build a “persona” to help you think about people in the audience, or more than one if it’s a diverse group. Give your persona a name and think about what they’re like, why they’re here, their hopes and fears and how you might solve their problem.
Clarify your message
Your presentation should have one message. It could be to solve their problem by buying your product, investing in your project or changing a policy. In The 7 habits of highly effective people, Stephen Covey said, “begin with the end in mind” – and this is true when it comes to presentations. If you’re not sure what the audience should think, feel and believe by the end of your presentation, then start doodling; turn “buy my market research service” into “hear how XYZ improved results by delighting their customers”. Always focus on the benefit to the audience.
Design your presentation
Break away from your keyboard or touch screen (just for a moment!) Try using low-tech pieces of paper to plan out the key points, then add a story or anecdote for each. Rather than saying that your taxi company has more drivers than anyone else, share a story of how a client had been able to get to the airport after a last-minute flight change. Although most business presentations need to contain facts and figures, it’s the stories and emotional connection that make them memorable.
If you’re considering using charts or graphs – ask the question; “will this chart make it easier for THIS audience to understand THIS message?” If not, ditch it. If you do need to provide the fine detail, then make it available through a handout or a follow-up email.
Achieve visual impact
It’s easy to find free-to-use photos by searching online for “Creative Commons”, there are also low-cost photo libraries. Or use your own photos. Photos, quotes and videos from your current customers are a bonus. Use them to demonstrate success and achievements. If you are presenting at an event, make sure that your first and last slides have your name and contact details, and the event hashtag.
Think carefully about how you use text. Use a large, clear font (which will help you keep to a sensible number of words). Remember, your audience can’t split their attention and read and listen to you at the same time. Before you show them something important on the screen – always pause to give them time to read and absorb.
Practice your presentation. You’re not aiming for perfection, but practice will make you better. Rehearse what you’re going to say and how you’re going to use your slides. Go back to your persona(s) and imagine their reaction as you make each point. Make any notes that you need, but don’t make the mistake of reading to the audience. The rehearsal process builds confidence and allows you to practise your timing. If you’ve been given 20 minutes to present, then an hour-long presentation is no good. Instead, be prepared to do it in 15 minutes if necessary.
Check the tech
Always check what equipment you’ll need to use and pay particular attention to connectors for screens and projectors. Bring spares of everything including a power extension cable. Having your presentation on a USB stick can get you out of trouble in an emergency. Remember that things can change at the last minute, so be prepared to adapt, and try to arrive early so that you can test that everything is working.
Take a deep breath before smiling at your audience. Then enjoy delivering your powerful presentation to an audience that will find your message compelling.
Being asked to deliver a talk is a great experience. Whether it’s a sales pitch to a client or an update in a team meeting, the most important thing is to focus on the needs of the audience and make sure your message is useful to them. These steps will help you deliver the most powerful presentation possible, and produce an enjoyable, productive experience for you and your audience.