Delivering a compelling presentation can be a daunting prospect: there is nowhere to hide in front of a live audience, and the audience will have high and very specific expectations of you. Ideally, it would go perfectly from beginning to end. Of course, this often isn’t the case, and many of the mistakes can be avoided. Here are seven top tips for making sure your presentation goes to plan.
1. Be Prepared. Preparation isn’t just about knowing your lines and going over them so many times that they blur into one. You should look at your subject from a spectator’s point of view, and from every angle. It’s not just about the cold side – the basic specifications that you plan to recite – but about the warm side too, the ways in which your topic applies in practical situations, the ways that it will really appeal to your audience. The people you present to want to be engaged. Do all you can to make sure your presentation will be given with emotion and passion. If appropriate to your style and topic, add a little humour as an ice-breaker.
2. Be Seen. When conducting a presentation, it is important that the audience knows who is the star of the show, which means you have to give all the indications, both physical and verbal, that you are in charge. For starters, don’t try to hide behind tables, chairs or lecterns, as these are classic defence mechanisms, position yourself front and centre on the stage. You may find yourself falling into these traps without even realising you’re doing it, pay attention to how you hold yourself as you present. Stay active and move in a calm and natural manner without being too frenetic. People don’t want to chase you around the stage, but they want to know you’re not glued to the spot either.
3. Be Heard. You may be surprised how much practice it takes to achieve the right balance with your speaking voice. Speaking too quietly and too loudly can both be signs of nerves or of lack of experience in presenting, and both can have quite an impact on the quality of your presentation. Also give consideration to the acoustics of the room or environment you will be presenting in, as these can make a great deal of difference to your overall delivery. Rehearse your presentation, at least once, in the same location – or one like it – that you will deliver the real thing, as a ‘sound check’. Make sure that you can be heard and understood clearly, and that you maintain a steady pace – rushing through it is another sure symptom of nerves. Don’t forget to express the enthusiasm and passion mentioned in step one.
4. Be Clear. Clarity should be a theme throughout your presentation, starting from when you first write your presentation. You may know what you want to say in your head, but does it fall into a neat structure when you put it together? Just like any book or article, the audience will want to know your solutions and conclusions to various examples you give throughout, so try to adopt a classic narrative arc that goes from establishment of an issue through to solution, and do not to stray too far from the path. Whatever you talk about, your audience should feel confident that it ties in with the higher message of your presentation, and be able to follow your line of narrative. What questions did you lay out when setting your presentation, and have you answered these by the time you finish? Does your audience have any other expectations of your presentation that have not yet been fulfilled? Remember to bridge the gap between what has been promised and what you deliver.
5. Be Adaptable. As with many things in life – especially something you are piloting that is very new or alien to you – not everything will go exactly as you planned it, and with time and effort, you will improve. Don’t let this derail your presentation. You are only human, don’t be hard on yourself. You may inadvertently skip a section and have to go back to it, or make a mistake, but don’t worry, just style it out and carry on, as they do on Saturday Night Live. If you are particularly gifted with words and spontaneity, you may even find the opportunity to use such a faux-pas to your advantage. Whatever you do, don’t approach your presentation with too serious a mind, otherwise you risk not being able to laugh at yourself should the need arise, and considering it a much bigger deal than it really was. Public speaking is not the place for the perfectionist.
6. Be Believable. Giving a presentation relies heavily on your audience feeling a rapport with you, and if they don’t feel that you are being genuine or natural in their presence, you will get their backs up, and if anything, actively turn them against you. For this reason, it is best to know your script well, and then freestyle it, because this way, you maintain your natural manner and characteristics, and your audience will pick up on this. In this same train of thought, if you are not a master comedian it may be best to leave out the attempts at humour, as build-ups to punchlines can come across as very transparent and fracture the flow of your presentation.
7. Breathe. Forgetting to breathe is a common error that can trip up both your words and the momentum of your presentation in general. Of course, breathing is another factor that is affected heavily by nerves, and can cause you to run out of breath and trying to fit too many words into one breath. Take your time, pace yourself and focus on your breathing.
All of these small characteristics combine to make an engaging and informative presentation that will deliver all the qualities you hope it to. As with any skill, the more often you present and follow these tips while doing so, the more comfortable you will become, and the stronger a presenter you will be.
Are you an under-performing manager? Are you ready to make the changes needed to boost your performance at work? Find more helpful advice at www.margo-manning.com
About the author: Margo Manning is a Leadership Coach at: Margo Manning, and author of The Step Up Mindset for New Managers (£14.99, Panoma Press). In the last 15 years, Margo has been delivering talks as one of the UK’s top Leadership and Management Coaches and Facilitators. Margo is the architect of the 3:2 Management Model and subsequent 3:2 Management Development Programme that is delivered and adopted within many businesses, large and small, nationally and internationally. She has worked, and continues to work, with new managers through to senior managers in companies such as Golden Sachs, Hobart Lovells, Brunswick Group, Tower Hamlets Homes, Aon, Balfour Beatty, Kantar and many more.