I have spent most of my professional life involved in giving presentations one way or another. They were of many different types: lessons – as I was a teacher for many years; product presentations – as a marketing manager for publishing houses; training sessions – for teachers and salespeople; motivation talks – for publishers as a freelance speaker. Therefore, I believe I have enough experience and expertise to impart some tips to beginners in this fascinating field of presentations, although I believe that even those with a bit more experience will also profit from the tips below, as one can always learn.
1. PowerPoint or Keynote: if you have these very similar softwares, don’t waste a lot of time brooding over which one to use. It does not really matter, they basically have the same functionality and they will only serve as a visual support for your presentation. Therefore, use the one you are more familiar with. Don’t forget there’s always the option of using neither. PowerPoint has been overused for almost two decades now, and some people cannot stand it any longer. Especially because many people use it as a teleprompter, rather than as a tool to show visuals that may highlight your point or make it clearer to your audience. Never – let me repeat this – never use PowerPoint as a teleprompter. Now and then, write down your speech or presentation and just memorize it or deliver it with the help of some cue cards. Take a look at some TED talks to know what I mean. Your presentation will come across as much more energetic and interesting if you do this.
2. Start your presentation with a bang: this could be either a joke, an interesting quote or an activity that will involve your audience as a kind of warm-up. If you make them do something right at the beginning, it will take the pressure off of you before you start your brilliant delivery, and will also infuse them with energy and get their minds focused.
3. Prepare, prepare, prepare: there’s no good spontaneous talk. You need to know what you are talking about, and rehearse how your message will be delivered. Don’t try to wing it. I had a boss once who would spring presentation assignments at me at very short notices. I had a hard time persuading her this would not reflect well on our team. It would make us look unprofessional. Yes, sometimes you need to enlighten people who are above you on the corporate food chain, otherwise the damage can be catastrophic. Take Steve Jobs for example: he would prepare relentlessly and worry about every minute detail of his presentations for maximum impact. He was right. Also, remember there’s usually a question and answer slot a the end of most presentations, so make sure you know a lot more about the subject than the fraction of it you presented. A presentation should only reflect the tip of the iceberg of the speaker’s knowledge and understanding of the topic. Learn all you can about it before putting yourself in the position of an expert and speak from the podium.
4. Use slides frugally: if you choose to use PowerPoint or Keynote, do not use too many slides, or write too many words on each of them. You can aways give the audience a handout with the summary of your presentation at the end. Slides are for occasional pictures, short phrases or inspiring quotes. Filling a slide with one hundred bullet points with a small font and read them out loud to your audience will not increase your popularity as a good speaker.
5. Tell stories: love of storytelling is universal. People from all cultures and all ages enjoy a good story. So make sure you tell them during your presentation. They can be personal anecdotes (which are very effective, and lend your whole talk a more personal and intimate tone) or they could be stories you either made up or read in books, the Internet or newspapers. If you structure your presentation using the backbone of a story, you will be surprised at how much more effective it will be.
6. Involve your audience: nowadays most people have the attention span of a goldfish and will not sit quietly through a long and boring presentation. If they stay, you will notice most of them will be checking their smartphone screens for the latest Facebook update. On the other hand, there is no need to be a stand-up comedian to keep their attention. A simple trick is to involve them and make them participate actively throughout the session: ask questions, get them to give you their opinions, set up an electronic voting system.
I guess that is all for today. There are hundreds of books and posts on the Internet that can help you hone your presentation skills. I would strongly recommend you watch TED talks regularly – they are not only informative and fun, but they can also teach you techniques on how to speak in public well. If you were to choose ONE book on presentations to study, I would recommend Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery by Garr Reynolds. It is surely one of the best books on presentations I have ever read.
Would you like to share with us any additional tips on how to present well? Please leave your comments on the blog as you leave. Don’t forget to rate this post.