There are many different formats in which you might be presenting. These range from ballroom-size conferences to more casual conversations. Here are some general tips to ensure you get the content and style right.
- When preparing your talk, start by asking yourself the following questions:
- Who? Who are your audience? Who are the individuals? How many? What sort of environment?
- What? What do they want from you? Why are they giving up their time?
- Message? What are you trying to communicate? What do want them to think or feel after your talk?
- How? What is the best way of getting your message across?
- Then plan your talk before you write it. Note down everything that comes to mind. Ask yourself how the audience will benefit from listening to you. Consider answering the question “What this means for you is…..”
- Structure your information:
- Introduction – use a strong opening, something interesting or even controversial. But definitely something that grabs their attention. Remember to state the aim of the talk.
- Main body – Your ideas should flow in a logical sequence. For each issue, explain why it is relevant to the audience, perhaps by illustrating the point with examples. Then try to provide some practical tips on what they could do about it.
- Summary – list the main points, thank them for listening and deal with any questions. Try to link back the summary to the introduction.
- Keep prompt notes on postcards and use these as stepping stones. Try to avoid using a script. Speakers with scripts do not usually get the attention of the audience, nor are they particularly persuasive.
- Keep it simple. Avoid jargon which might not be understood. Stress benefits rather than details. Use single messages and short sentences. Avoid lists and too many numbers – not like this blog article! Periodically ask yourself “Will the audience understand this?”
- Add interest. Use humour if you are comfortable doing so (see below). Be enthusiastic and use vocal intonations. Use stories. See separate handout.
- Be visual. Use bullet points to summarise the key messages and wherever appropriate diagrams or pictures.
- Use confident body language and voice. Looking at your audience adds credibility. Stand still and don’t sway. Imagine your feet in the ground. Movement should come from above the waist. Keep hands out of pockets and avoid fiddling. Smile! Be authentic and natural, yet try to come across as 3% bigger.
- Rehearse your presentation. See if someone is prepared to listen and give you feedback – otherwise the mirror will have to do! Preparation helps most people manage any nerves.
- Get feedback after the event. If you can learn from each experience you’ll keep getting better.
Some Things to Avoid
- Don’t stare at the floor, ceiling, table – look at the audience
- Don’t fiddle, scratch, chew your fingers, twirl your hair, rattle coins in your pockets – they distract the audience and undermine your credibility
- Don’t distract by using unnecessary body movements, such as swaying, foot shuffling, tapping your feet etc
- Don’t rush or gabble – pace your words and ideas and pause
- Don’t mumble – your audience will give up trying to listen to you if it’s hard work
- Don’t forget your audience – try to avoid substituting “I” for “You”
- Don’t talk at your audience. Involve them
- Don’t drone on and on. Keep it short
Ways to Add Interest to Your Presentation
- Animate your face. Move eyebrows, eyes and facial muscles – smile.
- Animate your voice. If you feel excited and enthusiastic, this will come across in your voice and the audience will feel the same way
- Shorten your talk and lengthen time for interacting with the audience with questions or discussion
- Provoke reactions from your audience during your talk if you can – it’s harder to do this with large audiences . Ask questions, either generally or to specific individuals, such as “What has been your experience acquiring the business in Central Europe?” Or take opportunities at the end of sections of the talk to say “Any questions before I move on to…?”
- Don’t rush. Allow time for thinking and processing the information (you and the audience)
- Watch the audience. If they become a bit restless, it’s because you are doing something that isn’t working. Change pace, content or add a story
- Use humour. This doesn’t have to be a joke. They are hard to judge. A relaxed and light topical reference can be all that is needed
- Use gestures. These help to amplify your points. But use them sparingly otherwise they can distract
- Move about a bit. Even if you are seated, you should look for opportunities to add variety (eg move to use visual aids)…and finally…
- Take deep breaths and get yourself centred before going on – it’s what the elite sports people do to ensure being at their best.
…and try to enjoy!