Candy was struggling.
She checked the timer: 10 minutes to go. She only had 2 minutes of content to string out!
She glanced at the audience and immediately looked down. Candy was never good in social situations, but 23 sets of eyes evaluating her was the limit.
She returned her gaze to the screen and read the slide title. Slowly.
She checked the timer. Still nine and a half minutes left.
She moved onto the first bullet point. She read it aloud and paused.
While Candy considered how to elaborate on the bullet point there was movement from the spectator side. She heard muttering and then someone let out a muffled giggle.
This was perhaps the worst Candy had ever felt in her entire business career.
She began explaining the first bullet point with her eyes firmly fixed on the door. She felt like she was dragging out the explanation the same way she’d padded essays in high school.
Timer check: 8 minutes 40 seconds remaining.
Candy’s cheeks were burning.
Her mind suddenly shifted from “I need to string this out” to “What’s the worst that can happen if I wrap this up now?”
Desperately needing relief from this pain Candy read off the next two bullet points, thanked the audience, and sat down.
Abrupt but complete.
A terrible experience for Candy, an even worse one for her audience.
Candy’s situation is not unique.
Every day, across the globe, thousands upon thousands of business presentations are delivered. Most delivered in appalling fashion.
I would hazard a guess that over 90% of them are delivered badly, by a nervous presenter, just like Candy.
What can you do to improve your presentation skills? How can you turn off your inner Candy?
Following are 10 easy-to-follow formulas to transform a train wreck into a great presentation.
Formula 1: 60-Second Story Development
You’ve heard it before, stories improve presentations.
But who’s got time to sit down and slave over a story that somehow helps you to introduce your latest project update?
Who’s got time to build a story out of a profound childhood experience into a business lesson to help the audience understand why you’re changing the dress policy?
Never fear! I promised you 60-second story development and here it is…
Stories don’t have to be elaborate to work in your presentation.
Stories work simply because the audience can tell you are being genuine with them.
Next time you have to do a presentation here’s the quick and dirty way to come up with a story:
Write down what business life was like before the topic of your presentation (eg. before the new system, before the implementation of the project you are working on)
- Write down what it is like now (or will be like) as a result of the new policy, system, etc.
Your story is formed simply by talking about the past and the present/future. Talk about your experience to fill the gaps.
Here’s an example of a presentation about a project update:
“When I first started working in the accounting department I had a problem. I was being told by everyone to complete multiple review reports throughout the day, but I could see it was a waste of time. I could see it was a waste of time, but I couldn’t say anything. You see, I was a freshman. I didn’t know how my colleagues (some with over 20 years experience) would react if this fresh-face wanted to change things. It was 3 months later when I began to realize everyone felt the same way about the review reports, but nobody wanted to rock the boat. I put up my hand to lead a project to improve the process around the review reports and make us more efficient. I’m happy to announce we are well on our way to saving everyone massive amounts of time each month. Today, I’d like to give you a project update…”
You see! It’s nothing special. It’s just the facts told as a story.
Try it next time and see your presentation engagement skyrocket!
Formula 2: Paint-by-Numbers Interaction
Don’t you hate those people?
You know the ones? The ones who talk at you and never ask any questions?
I’m sure you’ve had “friends” like this. Or friends of friends.
They’re tiresome, right?
Who wants to be around someone who talks at you all the time?
Think about this the next time you’re getting your presentation ready.
People don’t like to be talked “at”. They want to be talked “with”.
No one wants to be lectured.
Design your presentation to contain some interaction with the audience. Have some questions prepared.
To start, ask yourself: What irritates my audience around the topic I will present about?
Use the answers to the above question as prompts to create questions for your audience.
Here are some example questions that act to lead into the topic of changing a process:
“Who enjoys completing their review reports?”
“If you could change one thing about the review reports, what would it be?”
“How much time would you save if you didn’t have to complete review reports?”
Asking a question about an audience frustration gives you the opportunity to show the audience you understand them, and build rapport as a result.
Formula 3: Easy Discussion
It’s tough to listen to most presenters.
You see, most presenters don’t communicate like real humans.
Focused on getting to the end of the presentation, the speaker rushes through their slides reading off bullet points.
At no time do they consider their relationship with the audience.
Relationship with the audience is everything. If the speaker’s relationship with the audience is bad then the presentation is pointless because the audience aren’t listening anyway.
If you speak in an easy, conversational tone with the audience you establish rapport. Suddenly your presentation improves and your audience becomes more engaged. You become more relaxed.
Build your relationship with the audience using the Easy Discussion formula.
It’s real simple.
Practice your presentation without using slides as prompts. When you prepare this way, your delivery becomes more and more natural. More like you would talk in a discussion.
Formula 4: Forgetful Memorization
Fear of making mistakes, not mistakes themselves, is what will derail your presentation.
Fact: Everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect.
When you’re preparing your presentation, prepare with the knowledge that you will make mistakes.
Guess what happens?… You relax and the likelihood you’ll make mistakes is reduced.
Forgetful Memorization is preparation by getting an in-depth knowledge of your topic and acceptance that mistakes are inevitable.
Now nothing can derail your presentation. If you make a mistake or forget something you can continue talking about the topic you know so well.
Formula 5: Show, Don’t Tell
It can get tiring for the audience listening to you bang on for 30 minutes to an hour.
Cut out the telling and activate the audience by showing them.
If you’re introducing a new system demonstrate the system. For full engagement demonstrate an improved workflow that will save the audience time.
If you’re introducing a new process, simulate the new process flow versus the old.
If you’re introducing a new dress code show images of what’s appropriate and what’s not.
Formula 6: Permanent Blank
The easiest and toughest formula to implement.
Permanent Blank means delivering with the screen blanked.
That is, no slides!
Shocking, I know. But you will be amazed at how much more engaged and responsive your audience is when you deliver without slides.
When you deliver without slides, you’re giving them something different. You’re not serving up the bog-standard snore-fest they’ve come to expect when they walk into the conference room 6.
You have the opportunity to shock them into paying attention.
You will instantly increase your credibility. Without slides, the audience will trust you know what you are talking about.
You will appear more confident and gain the audience’s respect.
Give it a try. Practice delivering your speech without slides and then go on stage without them. Hand out reading material at the end if the audience needs reference documents.
Formula 7: Anti-Motion Sickness
Okay, so you must use slides.
Anti-Motion Sickness is a formula for keeping your audience focused on the key message.
Don’t let them get sea sick.
Go through your PowerPoint, Keynote, or (gulp) Prezi slide deck and remove unnecessary animations.
You want your audience focused on what you are saying, not holding down their lunch because they feel like they’re on a rollercoaster…
Nobody cares how tech-savvy you are so ditch the zoom-ins, pull-backs, fly-ins, and rotations.
Formula 8: The Prune
Want the audience to absorb your message or want to impress them with how much knowledge you have?
Most presenters just want to audience to absorb the message.
To that end use The Prune to remove the unnecessary.
Get rid of wordiness in your speech.
Be ruthless and remove parts of your speech that are not 100% needed to get the message across.
Prune content from your slides. Let whitespace rule.
Formula 9: The Big Embrace
The Big Embrace is a formula where you spend preparation time understanding your audience.
The Big Embrace gives you the opportunity to consider your presentation topic from the audience’s perspective.
It gives you the opportunity to empathize with your audience.
When you understand the audience’s perspective, and you’re able to walk in their shoes, this comes through in your presentation. Your language and framing become more empathetic. As a result the audience is more likely to listen and trust you.
Embrace, embrace, embrace!
Formula 10: The Surprise Close
The Surprise Close is the key to keeping your audience on your side.
Instead of trying to fill your allotted time, plan to finish early.
Your audience will appreciate nothing more than a succinct presentation that finishes early and allows them to get on with their routine.
Be remembered as the presenter who doesn’t waste people’s time.