If like me you worked extensively in the corporate world before embarking on your entrepreneurial journey, then there is a high probability that you have sat through dozens and maybe even hundreds of different presentations – I know I have.
On reflection though, how many of those presentations could you honestly describe as being inspirational? I can count them on one hand. So how do you make a lasting impression when presenting to a group of people? For me there are 5 key ingredients that really count when it comes to delivering presentations that work well and can really inspire an audience.
1. Do your homework
First you need to understand who you target audience is and what they are expecting from your presentation.
Often people ignore this vital step as they aim to create a memorable presentation. Even though you might be speaking on a topic that you know inside out and have presented on hundreds of times before, it’s really important to do your homework and have a sense of your audience in mind.
The simple reason for this is that you can ‘tweak’ your presentation to make it more engaging and more relevant for the specific group of people you’re addressing. Of course it’s very unlikely to meet the needs of absolutely everyone in the room but you can give yourself a good chance of striking a chord with the majority of your audience, if you aim to understand who they are and what they’re all about. So make sure you:
- Start with one key individual i.e. the host of the event and get as much information from them as possible
- Find out how many people will be attending
- Enquire as to what the gender and age split is likely to be
- Get a sense of the level of knowledge attendees already have on your subject matter
- Find out how long you have to speak, check the set-up of the room and practice before hand if you can
- Depending on the scenario, establish if it’s ok for you to sell from stage
Take five minutes now and think about the next presentation you are scheduled to give. Have you made the enquiries listed above or could you be better informed about the challenge you’re taking on? Doing your homework can make a big difference, so ask all and any questions you can think of to help prepare and tailor your talk for your audience.
2. Planning is everything
Planning saves you time on a fundamental level as it gives you an opportunity to get what’s inside your head out on to a page or a set of cue cards. So here’s how I think you should be approaching the process in preparation for a presentation:
- Set time aside to do a ‘brain dump’. Get all your thoughts out. Some people write everything on post-it notes, others used coloured cards, mind maps and some people stick to the good old lists! Do whatever works for you.
- Once you have written everything, leave it for a few days to ferment and then come back to your ideas and see if there is anything else you can add. If not, then you are ready to start pulling together the outline of your presentation.
- Plan out your presentation in the way a writer would construct the outline of a book. As well as having a beginning, middle and an end, consider the rhythm and tension of your presentation. What’s the cliff hanger? What’s that vital piece of information that will keep everyone hanging on your every word until you release it and quench the desire for that knowledge?
3. Looks do count
You’ve written your content and now it’s about bringing the design into focus and sharpening up your text. Work with a designer to get the right layout, font, sizing and colours for your slides. It is well worth the investment and often just a slight change to font and sizing makes all the difference.
Images are a great way to add visual interest but an overuse of them can become a distraction so you need to find the right balance. In the early stages, the rule of thumb a lot of people apply is one slide image, one slide text, one slide image, one slide text and so on.
Always remember, ‘less is more’. Some presenters can get a bit trigger happy with their slides and end up creating far too many, with too much information/data on each slide. Your slides ultimately do two things:
- They act as a guide and signpost for both your audience and yourself. They help you to keep on track so that at any given moment you know where you are in your speech and they help your audience keep up with you as well.
- They stimulate your audience’s memory so that they make a stronger connection between what you are saying and the slide in front of them. Pictures are excellent for creating memory sense associations.
Some of the best slides I’ve seen have:
- Inspired with skilful use of just a few very meaningful words
- Energised an audience and supported a great presentation in a subtle but very effective fashion
- Been fun, colourful and engaging rather than being made up of swathes of lifeless text
Think about the overall look and theme of your slides, it’s worth engaging a graphic designer or slide specialist to ensure the look appropriately reflects your brand.
4. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing your presentation, especially out loud, is crucial as it helps to commit it to memory. You give a much better presentation when you can stand up in front of an audience and just speak. Your voice projects, you maintain eye contact with your audience and they are far more engaged.
I always practice my presentations out loud and just hope that the neighbours don’t see me wondering around my dining room talking to myself. Then, I practice in front of a friend who has a sound knowledge of business and presenting. It might seem odd but the words I long to hear at this point are, ‘Carole, I don’t understand that bit’. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for such a simple interruption, because it’s crucial to realise that what comes as second nature to you, can seem baffling to a total stranger. Knowing when more explanation is needed means I can unpack that element of the presentation and make it more accessible to my audience.
Below are a few tips I came across recently from TED speaker Becky Blanton. You might find them useful and I for one have already made them part of my pre-presentation routine.
- Memorise your talk where possible
- Get 8-hours sleep after practicing. This helps your brain commit, process, and store the speech, allowing you to remember what you’ve crammed for
- Give the speech to a small audience the day before
- Give the speech to yourself an hour before your actual speech
- Practice in the venue where you’ll be talking – get on the stage if possible beforehand
5. Keep your audience engaged
Keeping your audience engaged is paramount if you want them to take your messages on board. From the word go you need to be getting them to connect with you and then ensuring throughout your talk that you keep them actively engaged. Depending on the size of your audience you can:
- Split the attendees into groups or pairs and get them to undertake an exercise
- If space is limited, pose a question and get your audience to write down their answers and then ask people to share
- If you have a large group and you are short on time, get them to answer questions by a show of hands, or use electronic voting panels and instantly relay their responses
The best presentations are short, which is why TED talks are only 18 minutes long. If you can’t get your point across in 20 minutes then there is something wrong with your presentation style. It could be you are not simplifying your message or trusting that your audience will get it and therefore being too detailed as you go along.
However, if you need some further help, think about undertaking a course on the subject and check out Catherine Watkin, whose ‘Selling from the Heart’ series I can very much recommend. Catherine in fact is running a two day presentation course in London in September. If you have not come across her work before, she’s well worth investigating. Toast Masters is another good place to join to get experience at presenting. I know quite a few people who have been through the course and love it.
Finally, remember that when you’re delivering a presentation, you are taking your audience on a journey. If you forget something or fluff a line don’t worry because no one knows! Just be authentic and your audience will recognise and appreciate that you are being yourself. And my final piece of advice is very simple – breathe and have fun!