The biggest enemy of successful presentations in any form – be they business presentations, lectures or keynote speeches is not an inattentive audience. Surprisingly, it’s self imposed by the presenter: a fanatical focus on the content. This may seem like a rather strange comment, but if your content is so dynamic, why not put it in to an article and email it to your audience instead? Perhaps it’s because unlike an email or article, a presentation is delivered to a captive audience – those present, who can’t close you down quite so easily. Yes, I agree, if your content is rubbish who will want to keep listening to you anyway? My view is not directed at presenters who take the trouble to deliver excellent content, but rather at those who fail to connect with their audiences.
I’ve listed to literally hundreds of presentations and speeches. At the end of each one I hear opinions such as : “That was brilliant” or “after 10 minutes I had no idea what he was on about” or “just seemed to lack passion” or “one of the best I’ve ever heard!” to mention just a few.
What really makes a presentation good or bad? What makes it worth listening to or a waste of time? Most of the people I talk to seem to agree that it is a combination of many things extending beyond just having interesting content. I believe that there are 2 primary areas that you need to focus on: Content… and delivery.
Compelling content may get you a mark of 50%. Great delivery may also get you 50%. Whether it’s one or the other you still only get 50%. Often, I’m sad to say, the presenter scores a zero. What you’re looking for as a presenter is a full house on both counts. So how do things go wrong?
It does not occur to many presenters that it is impossible to give an audience a fully comprehensive coverage of any topic in a limited time. It is however possible to give one central message with a handful of sub points. The main problem in a nutshell? Trying to pack in too much stuff in to a limited time frame. So my first tip is this:
Out of the huge bank of knowledge at your disposal on your topic, select a central message and few simple supportive points to drive that message home. You may want to add in some humour and a few stories, but by and large, that sorts out the content. Simply avoid cramming in too much stuff. Now, what’s the delivery bit?
As a member of an audience I want to feel that you are speaking to me, not at me. Presenters intent on getting through their content seldom achieve this. Firstly they seem more intent on staring at their visuals (which they use as prompts), and second their focus seems primarily to keep on track and not leaving anything out.
One of the reasons that this problem arises is that these presenters spend far more time on preparing content than they do on rehearsing delivery. Structure is very important, I agree. You want a strong ending, your introduction should set up your talk and you want the body of the presentation to be interesting and logical. But you need to spend a good deal of time rehearsing how you will deliver this message. This includes the quality of your voice, how you will stand, gestures that you may use, where you will insert pauses for effect and whether you will be serious or friendly. This is the stuff that your audience will experience, and it forms a large chunk of what they will be judging you on. The time to focus on this is after your initial preparation. The key word here is rehearse. In order to be able to do this you need to finish the preparation of your content a few days in advance.
So how long does one need to rehearse for a business presentation? 2-3 times should do the trick – or until you have it right. How long does one need to practice for a keynote speech? Rehearse until you can’t get it wrong.
When you step down from the podium, I’m sure you’ll want people to be saying: “Wasn’t that a wonderful presentation?” You’ll achieve this if you deliver a concise message and if people feel that you were speaking to them personally. By preparing properly on both these fronts (content and delivery), not only will your audience enjoy your presentation, you will too!