Fear of losing one’s way in a presentation is the underlying reason why presenters become so dependent on their slide shows. The more dependent you become on your slide show, the more slides you create. The more slides you create the longer it takes to create – and deliver your presentation. What’s worse is that the more slides you have, the less flexible you are as you have to plough through them all to get to your closing comments, or the presentation ends up inconclusively somewhere in the middle. There is, of course the added problem of rushing through your slides to get to the end. This ensures that people that get lost along the way can’t board the train very easily because it’s going too fast.
It’s all a bit of a mess really, isn’t it. And that’s what so many slides shows are – a bit of a mess. If your slide show is a mess, then so is your presentation. So, what’s to do?
Here are 7 vital steps that you should take to ensure that you never again lose your way in a presentation.
1. Have a very clear objective. You know why you’re doing the presentation, you need to ensure that the audience does too. Tell them that at the beginning. It’s called “The Introduction” and that’s what it’s for.
2. Create a simple structure. All the points you’re going to make should lead into your central message which supports your objective. Make sure this is stated clearly in the body of your presentation. Then make sure you repeat the main message at the end and tell the audience very clearly what the next steps are. That’s the conclusion.
3. Schedule a question time. This allows you to fill in areas that were of interest to your audience that you may not have thought of covering. It also gives you a buffer in case you’re running early or late. If you’re running early, extend question time. If you’re running late, shorten it or don’t have it at all. In the latter event, the fact that it was scheduled in the first place probably saved you.
4. Cut the clutter. The less information you have on your slides, the better your audience eye contact and the more your audience will look at you. The less slides you have the lesser the chance of rushing, and the more opportunity you have to discuss each main point in a relaxed manner. You also have more flexibility in your presentation and can include a question time, thus creating audience interaction. If you already have one planned, it allows you to extend it if necessary.
5. Use cue cards. No, not a wad of A5 notes – but rather between 3 and 7 neat little index cards. Write your main points on them – big, clear and in lower case. Then number them. Then use them when you rehearse, and have them handy in case you need them on the day. If you’ve rehearsed with your cue cards until you are comfortable using them, you minimize your chances of getting lost. You can also use them to introduce your next slide. Very professional.
6. Rehearse in advance. If you haven’t gone through your presentation a few times in advance, you can’t fix what doesn’t work. You’re also going to be unfamiliar with the presentation flow. That means that you’ll be relying completely on your slides to lead the way. The audience will know it, you’ll know it, and it will be bad. If you practice your presentation 2-3 times prior to going live, you drastically reduce any chance of losing your way.
7. Back Yourself. Why should you be afraid of losing your way if you know what you’re going to be speaking about? Usually you get asked to present on your topic of expertise, so the subject matter is usually not the issue. If you’ve structured it properly and rehearsed as suggested above, all that remains is for you to put on your confidence hat and stride up to the podium with a smile. After all, you’re prepared, and you’re the expert.
Losing your way in a presentation is not a reflection of your ability to present or a lack of product knowledge. It’s almost always as a result of inadequate preparation, planning and rehearsal.
So now you can dump that little fear in the bin where it belongs, because it ain’t gonna happen to you no more!