14 Feb 2012

How to give great presentations

From board presentations to information sessions and product pitches, presenting is a vital and everyday part of business life.

Doing it well is an art, and presentations that are lacklustre mean the presenter’s message and aims go begging. Maintaining the audience’s attention is vital if you’re going to convey what you need to, to keep your audience interested and to get them to remember what it is you’re wanting them to take away.

Here are some hints and tips on what I think are useful considerations when giving presentations. Each point should be considered for both internal and external presentations:

1. Understand your audience

Unless you know who your audience are and, more importantly, what it is they’re going to want to know, your presentation is likely to miss the mark. Take the time to understand who you’re presenting to, and make sure that your expectations are both aligned. What are they expecting, and what are you wanting them to take away?

2. Stick to what’s crucial

Meandering presentations will quickly lose attention. Spend most of the time presenting what’s important. For every point in your presentation, ask yourself, “does it really need to be there”? Why have 35 slides when just 10 will do? This will help to avoid the dreaded ‘death by PowerPoint’!

3. Tell a story

This is key! Make sure that your presentation has a beginning, a middle and an end! Once you know what you want to say, make sure it’s part of a larger narrative. You might start with a graph of your company’s performance, for example, then point to which aspect of it your presentation is going to address. Finish with a summary of some key points or actions, which helps the audience to know that the presentation is coming to a close. Do not ‘read’ your slides, ‘present’ them!

4. Anticipate questions

Think about questions you may be asked and prepare your answers beforehand. Questions are a great way to establish that the audience was engaged and are now looking for further information or details surrounding the content that has just been presented.

5. Keep your PowerPoint/Keynote/Prezi simple

Make sure that you’re the focus of your presentation, not your slides. Keep them free of fancy effects, tacky clip art and any unnecessary gimmicks.  Try to use as few words on each slide as possible, as your audience will simply read the content of the slides if they are full of text. Avoid this by having one or two comments, relevant pictures or charts and talk about the details in which you are intending to deliver. This will help to make sure that your audience listens and engages with you, and not your content heavy slides!

6. Practice

If the presentation is important, practice! Edit as you go, move slides around and delete what’s unnecessary. By the time you’ve finished a third run through, your presentation will be twice as good.  It is important that you know what is coming next and that you flow along comfortably with your presentation’s beginning, middle and end.

How do you try to prepare for presentations? Do you have any tips to share?