Presentations are a great way to connect directly with your audience and get your key messages across.
Sadly, they’re often not done well. How many times have you sat through a presentation that’s long, boring and uninspiring?
Sometimes it comes down to nerves, more often to being unprepared and nervous about pushing the presentation boundaries.
Break out of the ‘death by powerpoint’ cycle. Prepare a presentation that aims to capture your audience’s hearts and minds.
“When I get ready to talk to people, I spend two thirds of the time thinking what they want to hear and one third thinking about what I want to say.”
Preparation is key. Before you even begin to pull a presentation together, find out all you can beforehand including:
- How long have you got?
- Who is in the audience?
- What do they already know?
- What do they want to know?
- How many people will attend?
- Will there be Q&A?
- Is anyone else speaking before or after you?
- What technical or other tools will you need?
What are you trying to achieve?
Before you start preparing your presentation, get really clear in your mind what it is you’re trying to achieve in your presentation. What is it that you want to leave your audience with at the end of your presentation?
Most presentations don’t succeed because they fail the “so, what?” test. In addition to imparting information, you need to make it relevant to your audience.
You want to avoid them leaving your presentation thinking that was a waste of time. In essence, you need to answer the “so, what?” question: You may be telling me this information, but so what?
Think about framing your presentation along the lines of: Here is this information, here is why it matters to you, and this is what you can do with it once you leave today. Thinking about your presentation in these terms will help improve the relevance and value of your content for your audience.
TOP TIP: THINK ABOUT YOUR CALL TO ACTION
From the "I have a dream" speech to Steve Jobs’ iPhone launch, many great talks have a common structure that helps their message resonate with listeners. In this Ted Talk, presentation expert Nancy Duarte shares practical lessons on how to make a powerful call-to-action
Our education system no longer expects students to sit passively consuming information imparted from an authoritative figure at the front of the room; yet that is what we often endure in our professional lives.
Think about how you might be able to engage your audience during your presentation. How can you get your audience involved in your subject matter? Encouraging audience participation can be an ideal way to keep them interested - and ensure they remember your key messages.
Preparing your talking points
When you’re preparing your talking points, focus on your audience needs. What will they want to know? How will you capture their attention and provide them with something new and fresh?
Before you even put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, plot out your key messages and main points.
Make sure you write for speaking. Short soundbites are best, with only one topic per paragraph. If you work best from prompts, make sure you practise what you’ll say and how you’ll deliver it. If you need to read each word out, make sure you hold as much to memory as you can so you’re not constantly looking down from the audience when you deliver.
Find stories to tell - they’re a great way to capture people’s attention and will more likely be remembered. If you’re good at humour, use it, but be careful about how you do this - if you misjudge the audience or get it wrong, your presentation will fall flat.
If you’re using images, make sure you integrate them into your ‘story’, so they don’t just sit there alone.
Don’t talk for too long!
No matter how lovely your voice is, no one wants to listen to it for too long. Ideally, you should speak for no longer than 15 to 20 minutes.
So if you have longer than this, break it up. You might want to do this by adding in time for questions and answers from the audience. You could include a short video (although beware of possibly technical failures and have a backup!). Could you bring someone else in to speak? A student, homestay parent, agent?
Spice it up
Think about elements that might ‘spice’ up your presentation. You don’t want to overdo it, but you do want to engage people and keep them interested.
Are there any props you could use? What kind of visuals could you include that would resonate with the story and messages you’re telling?
Think outside the square of innovative things you could include to capture your audience’s attention and make them remember you and your messages.
Tips for PowerPoint
PowerPoint can be your enemy if you don’t use it wisely. It should be there to enhance, not take over, your presentation.
As a general rule, slides should be the sideshow to you, the presenter. A good set of slides should be no use without the presenter, and they should definitely contain less, rather than more, information, expressed simply.
Use the 10-20-30 rule:
- Contain no more than 10 slides
- Last no more than 20 minutes
- Use a font size of no less than 30 point.
This last is particularly important as it stops you trying to put too much information on any one slide. This whole approach avoids the dreaded ‘Death by PowerPoint’.
If you need to provide more information, create a bespoke handout and give it out after your presentation.
And lastly, be prepared for tech failure! Make sure that you have a Plan B or can deliver your presentation without slides if you have to.
TOP TIP: AVOID SCREEN TALKING
The best PowerPoint presentations are those when the slides back up points made by the presenter, not when the presenter is reading out slides largely word by word. Focus on what you’re saying, and then develop PowerPoint slides to accentuate key points.
As a presenter, it’s all about you and your connection with the audience. If you’re not engaged with what you’re saying, no one else will be.
Connect with people
Smile, make eye contact. You’re having a conversation, not speaking with your head down to a piece of paper.
The power of the pause
A pause can be a powerful thing. Don’t stand up at the beginning of your presentation and rush to fill the silence. Stop. Look around. Make eye contact with as many people as you can. Smile at them. Don’t be afraid of that silence. Count slowly down from three. It will feel like eons of time to you, but it won’t to the audience. It’s a powerful moment to silently say ‘here I am - and I acknowledge you’.
Start with something that will capture people’s attention. It might be a little story, an anecdote, something to break the ice.
Your voice and pace
Practise your tone of voice and the pace of your delivery before you get up there in front of people. People tend to talk much faster and more monotonously when they’re nervous. Remember this and deliberately slow down, and vary the cadence of your voice. It may feel strange at first, but your audience will appreciate it.
Breathing will help with the pace of your delivery. Make sure you take regular, even breaths, not huge gulps of air that you then rattle off words from.
Beware of your body
What’s your body language saying? What are your hands doing? Hand gestures are good for emphasis, but don’t overdo them. Practise in front of a mirror until your body language looks relaxed and natural.
Show your passion
Let your passion and enthusiasm shine through. Let yourself feel the words you’re saying, believe in them, have the drive to share it with others. If you’re genuine in your approach, the audience will respond.
Remember, you’re not selling widgets - we’re talking about education, people’s lives, significant investments. It’s about emotion, adventure, passion, opportunity, security. You as the presenter need to convey all those things.
"Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel. It is to bring another out of his bad sense into your good sense.
Practice, practice, practice
As Rachel Hunter once said - albeit on a different subject matter - “it won’t happen overnight”. Delivering effective presentations requires constant and ongoing effort. Take every opportunity to refine your skills.
To help you on your presentation journey, consider undertaking professional development. Groups like Toastmasters New Zealand can be a great way to improve and refine your skill and confidence at presenting.
- Know your audience, what they want to know and what you want to achieve
- 15-20 minutes is about right for a presentation
- Think about how you could spice up your presentation
- Apply the 10-20-30 rule to your PowerPoint
- It’s about you, not the slides so gloss up on your presentation techniques