Presentations can be scary. but don’t be fooled into thinking that preparing and delivering them is the only scary part.
Having to sit through them can be even more daunting!
Reasons include poor preparation, poor delivery, content overload, inadequate logistics or very bad visuals. There’s loads more. I’d like to focus on the nonsense we unknowingly subject our audiences to and how you can ensure that you never do so again.
Usually people will attend your presentation because of their interest in that topic, not because it’s you delivering it. There are exceptions, of course. I’d listen to Sir Richard Attenborough anytime, anywhere, regardless of the topic, but there’s only one of him. Your job is to focus almost all your speaking time on the topic. “Asides” only work if they can make a valid point relative to the topic in an interesting or humorous way. Asides also work if you can easily flow back in to your topic. Too often presenters side track themselves ending up stuck out on a limb with nowhere to go.
The start of a presentation is your opportunity to create a strong first impression by creating context skillfully and briefly. When your introduction is over, your audience should know what you’ll be speaking about, why and what they’re expected to do afterwards. That shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes. Commentary on the weather, how nice it is to be here (and that Cape Town is simply your most favorite place on the planet), the state of your health and general chit chat can be reserved for before or after the presentation.
Too often presenters use the body of a presentation to attempt to convince the audience of their intelligence and knowledge. Too much information is provided on far too many text heavy slides. That’s not a presenter’s job. Their brief is to tell the audience what they need to know to convince them of the central message so that they will take action. It could be to buy, vote, donate, go on strike, invest – or whatever. If you’ve done your homework and you have a clear objective, the body of your presentation should be aimed at one thing only and that is achieving the presentation outcome. This means the objective must be clear in your own mind before you start preparing your presentation so that you start with the end in mind.
Because people usually present on a topic with which they’re familiar,
…the issue is usually not what to put in, but what to leave out!
So leave out all the fluffy clutter. By all means be entertaining and informative, but stick to what they need to know to make their decision at the end. The detail can be handed out, emailed or provided as a content link.
Be careful of adding special effects or videos. Special effects are intended to provide glamour but add no value at all. Videos often create logistical problems that result in things going wrong. This destroys the message. Leave that stuff to the professionals. I’ve seen even them mess things up using video. Keep it clean, focus on your message and let your personality do the convincing.
One of the best times to engage with your audience is when they ask you questions. This may be during, after or at a specified question time. This is a time to listen, be sincere and give concise answers. By answering at length you create the impression that you’re unsure of your answer. You’ll also reduce the number of questions that can be asked. It is worth noting that the end is the worst time to invite questions. You should be concluding, not the audience.
The worst way to end a presentation is to thank people for their time and the opportunity. Their time is precious, but so is yours. The best way to end most presentations is by summarizing the main points of your argument and then telling the audience what they should do to action your proposals. It’s called a “call to action”. Most presentations that I see don’t have one or it’s weak and unconvincing. That’s why presentations fail, because of no call to action resulting in no action being taken by the audience.
People have come to hear what you have to say about a specific topic. That’s a great honour. Don’t disappoint them. Cut the clutter. Tell them what they came to hear and what they should do next – then sit down. You’ll have delivered a superb presentation, they’ll enjoy it and everyone will be happy. They might even also do what they’re told. Wouldn’t that be swell?