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We have all seen bad presentations. Worse are the mediocre ones that manage to bore us to tears – and they are, unfortunately, not in short supply. In most cases, the presenters are smart people who know their subject matter. So, what is the problem? Well, as with most things, it is all in the details.
Presentations are more art than science. While it is typically uncommon to have an art form follow a specific formula, it kind of works with presentations in terms of the elements that help deliver something meaningful and memorable. And, the elements contained in great presentations apply across all spectrums including public speaking, boardroom settings or a one-to-one sales pitch.
I don’t know about you, but I have yet to recall anything from a presentation where words on slides were the prevailing feature. However, I fondly remember (in detail) great stories and storytellers. These are the folks that use images over words and engage with an honest and compelling approach to the subject at hand. The ones who manage to energize, motivate and educate in a way that is conducive to their cause and yours. Many of these individuals are not naturals. Far from it. I know this because I have asked them. The secrect they have in common is that they have learned from others, applied and practiced the craft with the focused mindset of doing better.
I’d like to think I’ve learned a thing or two in speaking to a wide range of audiences over the years. The most important learning was to strive to use each speaking engagement as an opportunity to do better. It’s kind of like tennis in that you have to play to improve.
My mission today is to simply share a few tips that I have found useful. It is not comprehensive, just top of mind points that I hope will help:
– Speak from the heart and from experience.
– Know your audience and their needs – get a good understanding of what they expect from your presentation.
– Craft a story then tell it, don’t read it. Reading your slides is quite silly when you think about it. You could have just sent the deck (certainly you can use notes, I am talking literally about reading slides – happens all the time and is always awful)
– Don’t ever forget that content is king.
– Use a central point or key message that everything else hinges on. Think thesis point as in essay writing.
– At the end, what is your call-to-action? What are you asking your audience to do as a result of your presentation?
– Use less words on slides – in fact if you can get away with using none and conveying your thoughts/points with image then do so. A picture is worth ….
– Humor should be used at your own risk. If you are not a comedian, leave the jokes to the pros.
– Nerves are natural. Don’t worry if you are nervous, everybody is nervous when they present.
– Learn the art of the pause when you speak. It is your friend.
– Practice, practice, practice. Winston Churchill prescribed that for every one minute of public speaking he prepared for one full hour. Churchill is famously quoted as saying “I’m just preparing my impromptu remarks”. When you are under prepared it is at your own peril.
– Record yourself – either video or audio. As painful as it may be to watch/listen it will help you see what others see.
– Do it with passion. If you don’t believe in it, then how could you possibly make others believe?
– Always remember that your audience wants you to succeed. Be positive and exude positive energy. SMILE.
– Leave time for questions.
If you would like to add more to the list, drop me a comment. Also, let me know if you are interested in some great resources on this subject – I’d be happy to share other items I have found useful. A couple that spring to mind are the guys over at Inside PR did a couple of podcasts discussing this very subject and Presentation Zen is always a gem of a resource.