We’ve all sat through presentations that are boring, poorly organized, or hampered by overuse or misuse of audio visual tools. And what happens? We tune out. And we might be missing information we really need to have.
Sometimes we have to give presentations that are highly technical, or require the explanation of complex ideas. That does not mean we have to give in and let our presentation be a snooze.
Here are 6 elements you must consider to ensure a successful presentation.
- The room. If you are not familiar with the space you’ll be presenting in and circumstances allow, make a point of visiting the space before your presentation. How big is the room compared to the number of people you expect to have in your audience? Will you need to encourage audience members to move to the front in a large space, or ask them to help find available seats in a crowded space? Do you need to request changes to the seating arrangements? Is the A/V that you need available and working properly?
- The numbers. How many people do you expect to have in your audience? Even if you’re not providing handouts or presentation notes, this is good information to have so that you can “scale” your movements and pacing for a larger or smaller group (for example, with large groups, some audience members will be sitting a greater distance from you, which may affect their ability to see and hear you, so you should broaden your gestures and adjust your volume or consider using a microphone – preferably a lavalier).
- The roles. What roles do your audience members play in your, or their, organization(s)? Are they in sales or R&D? Are they middle managers or C-suite executives? Is English their first language? (This last point should also factor into your pacing for maximum clarity.) These questions, as well as the questions about audience size, are part of a much more comprehensive list of questions we provide as part of the Audience Analysis section of Presentation Skills 101.
- The prez. The best way to control your nerves (for most of us they never go away entirely) is to be prepared. If you are creating your presentation from scratch and don’t know where to begin, try mind mapping to get your thoughts flowing. From there you can build an outline, which will vary a bit depending on the presentation type. Then you can create notes, which may be solely for your benefit or shared with the audience after your talk (generally it’s better to give out notes after you speak so people aren’t reading ahead and paying attention to the handout instead of you). If you’re being given a pre-set presentation to deliver, you still need to find a way to make it your own so that you’re not just reading it to your audience and boring people to death.
- The prep. It seems obvious, but less experienced presenters often underestimate the power of PRACTICE. Practice in front of a mirror. Practice for timing. If you’ve been asked to deliver a 20-minute talk, you want to come in under that without feeling rushed. Practice so that you have at least your main points and transitions committed to memory. Practice so that even if some distraction breaks your train of thought, you can take a deep breath and get back on track. Your audience will be grateful for the positive experience that will result even if they have no idea how much effort it took to achieve it.
- The engagement. In whatever way you can, you want to look for ways to engage your audience. You can ask questions: “How many of you know…?” You can surprise people with facts that might contradict what they thought they knew. You can tell stories to illustrate certain points – stories help people engage on an emotional level, whether it’s humor, sadness or even fear or anger. People not only are hard-wired to be interested in stories, we also tend to retain information presented or explained in story form.
We hope these guidelines are useful. For more info: Presentation Basics, Leveraging Your Behavior Style for Better Presentations