As a professional speaker, I get many chances, as I travel around the country, to see other people give presentations. With professional speakers, the presentations are always well done and professional. And of course they should be; these people are professionals!
But, sadly, I often see exactly the opposite with others: presentations that are boring, dull and dry and go on way too long, with the presenter exhibiting terrible speaking skills as well as a plethora of anesthesizing PowerPoint slides. You know what I’m talking about because you've seen it.
The point here is more important than any individual conference or meeting: In fact, I believe that in order to be a successful leader and entrepreneur, you have to become skilled at giving presentations like a pro. Here are eight tips on how to do that.
1. Properly prepare.
I know that you’re thinking that "preparation" means having your presentation deck in order and your handouts organized, but that is not what I mean at all.
What I refer to here is the need for a careful analysis of audience members to know whom you’re speaking to, and what they are expecting or needing from the presentation. Take time to talk to the person who invited you in the first place, to obtain a full and complete analysis of who will be in the room. Obviously, the presentation for roomful of CEOs will be different than a presentation for a group of front-line workers.
2. Start with a bang, not a whimper.
I have seen many presenters start out their presentations by giving their name and the title of the program and then saying, “Let’s get started.” I promise you, if you start out your presentation with just such a boring beginning, you'll lose your audience before you start.
We live in an era of high entertainment, and when we sit people in a room to watch a presentation, we need our presentations to start with a bang. You can start with a compelling quote, a great story, a stunning statistic or even a provocative question. The key is to get people's attention. Then you can introduce yourself and your topic.
Also use these tools to close out your presentation with a bang as well, because people do remember the beginning and the end of everything.
3. Recognize that the space is part of your presentation.
In many instances, I have seen the space become a barrier to the presentation being effective. Either the room was too crowded, it was set up the wrong way or the speaker was tied to the podium because that was the only place a microphone was available.
Make sure to check out in advance the space where you’re going to be presenting, to see its limitations. Additionally, arrive early the day of your presentation so that you can solve any room or space problems that exist before your presentation starts.
4. Please get rid of the PowerPoint.
it seems to me that everyone giving presentations these days is in love with PowerPoint. To me, there are several issues here -- the main one being that PowerPoint quickly becomes sleep-inducing, because people are staring at a screen, and often the lights have been dimmed so the PowerPoint can be seen more clearly: an invitation to everyone to take a nap.
I personally believe you’d be much better off with a couple of handouts than you would hypnotizing people with PowerPoint. I also think most people giving presentations have way too many slides and try to click through 97 of them in 35 minutes. This in my opinion is a disaster.
Finally, most people believe that their PowerPoint is their presentation, when the reality is that the PowerPoint is supposed to be a supplement to illustrate key points. What's more, people actually use PowerPoint as a script for their presentation, and read from the screen. This makes audience members want to run screaming from the room.
5. Make it a conversation, not a presentation.
I think that when you’re designing a presentatio, you should have a couple of points where you have interaction with the audience, in order to have a conversation instead of just a presentation. This makes the presentation much more useful and interesting for the audience members. They have a chance to ask questions and actually talk to you like a human being instead of a presentation robot.
6. Use stories.
Great presenters tell stories that captivate the attention of the audience -- but here’s something you shouldn't forget: The stories are not just stories for stories' sake. They illustrate the key points that you are discussing. This makes the presentation much more memorable.
7. Get some coaching.
Every professional speaker I’ve spoken with has told me he or she used a professional coach at some point to help with presentation skills. Join Toastmasters to learn better presentation skills, find out if your company offers training for presentation skills, attend a presentation skills class somewhere in your community. Or use a private coach to help you polish your skills.
I guarantee you that if you do thee things, you’ll get amazingly better results because you've had someone give you feedback in an objective way on what you do well, and what you need to improve on.
Each time you give a presentation, either ask a trusted colleague to observe your presentation and give you feedback, or if that is not possible, at least take time after every presentation to review what you believe went well and what could be improved.
This evaluation will help ensure that you continue to improve and take one step closer to being a presentation pro.