Perhaps there’s something in the air or just a natural increase in demand for public speakers but I appear to be getting more requests to make presentations than I can ever remember.
Flattering as it is to receive the invitations there is then the dawning realisation that saying “yes” to these requests involves quite a lot of work. But there’s no chance of winging it, putting off or leaving to the last minute. Professionally it’s not good form and personally if I commit I commit fully to the opportunity.
The upside to these requests is that it has focussed my mind on the essential elements that make good presentations and to not become complacent in either preparation or delivery.
Public speaking either within a company or externally can be one of the most stressful elements of your job or life generally. There are very few “natural” untrained presenters most of us need to receive training and importantly learn from our own and others mistakes. Hopefully the following tips will help organise your thoughts when you next get the opportunity to stand up in front of an expectant audience.
Do your research and gather as much intelligence on the audience beforehand. It can be very annoying and frustrating for a delegate at a conference to hear a speaker who patently does not understand their particular business. Of course a good brief can really help too, don’t be afraid to ask the organisers for as much information and guidance as possible. They should be more than happy to accommodate requests for further information. The more you know about the context of the event and its purpose the better the chances of meeting their objectives; they want it to be a success just as much as you do.
Knowing yourself and your weaknesses is also critical to delivering on the day. It starts with the preparation and allowing sufficient time for creation of the talk and rehearsal. If, like me, you have a very hectic schedule don’t leave matters to the last minute, you’ll become overly stressed and under prepared leading to a less than impressive performance.
The tools you can use for delivering presentations vary but many still work with the tried, tested and trusted PowerPoint slide show. Nothing wrong with computer generated slides but then again everyone uses it. If your aim is to stand out it may be time to think of a new innovative way to deliver your message. I’ve seen fantastic “stand up” presentations with no slides where the presenter is the animation, the bullet point and the show.
If you do use technology it’s always helpful to check with the venue or organiser as to what they are expecting. You arrive with a memory stick and they expect a laptop and projector…..not a good start. It may well be worthwhile investing in and bringing along everything you may need, just in case. Even if it stays in the boot of your car you’ll know you’ve got back up.
Slides should not be distracting but add to your delivery, keep word content light but salient and any images sharp, not offensive and not the property of someone else. Remember to give the audience a flavour of your talk first “what are you going to be giving them?” Follow this with the core content and conclude with a reminder of the key points.
I’ve seen an increasing trend in presentations to use web links and embedded video. These can be a great way to add sparkle to a presentation but a word or two of warning. Be sure that they work, sounds obvious web links require an internet connection. I once witnessed one of the UKs leading telecoms companies fail at this which completely ruined their presentation. Also be careful that they don’t dominate. Ideally they should be used to punctuate your presentation rather than be the leading attraction.
It’s well known that an audience will typically have only a few minutes of attention time before their minds wander. Get interactive part way through, throw out a question or two and get their adrenalin running too.
Do you let the audience fire away during your presentation or do you take them at the end? My advice is to consider our event, audience profile and size. Typically a large scale event is on a tight timeline and taking questions on the fly can take time out of your allotted spot. Alternatively a smaller more intimate group perhaps an internal department presentation or pitch to a new client may lend itself to offering those attending to ask questions as you go. Either way the audience must be clear at the outset.
Handing out your PowerPoint slides ahead of you presentation is a definite “no-no”. All you will be aware of when presenting is the gentle rustle of paper turning as attention turns to the slides ahead of where you are. As with questions you can announce at the start that you will be happy to share the sides or notes or whatever level you feel comfortable with the audience if they drop you a line via e-mail, twitter, Linkedin etc.. contact details will be on one of your slides or they can take a business card from you or organisers. NB: Remember to go armed with business cards.
Many events are now recording their presentations so don’t be surprised to find a camera pointing at you. Be sure to look your best and essentially sound loud and clear enough for those at the back to hear. Ideally if you can arrive early and have a sound check – if necessary use a microphone to help project in larger venues.
Having blasted this blog out in a few minutes I realise this topic could be covered in several posts but one final and very important point for an effective presentation….nerves. If anyone ever tells you they don’t get nervous before speaking in public they are almost certainly lying. I’ve had the good fortune over the past 20 years to present at major venues in the UK and overseas. I can honestly say that the poorest performances have been when I’ve been too relaxed. It’s normal to feel stressed and anxious about delivery just don’t let it get in the way of your performance.
If you have any additional tips, suggestions or comments feel free to add them below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @davidlaud
David Laud – Partner i2i Business Solutions LLP