There was no chance Sandra’s project was going to be approved now.
Months of work down the drain.
Crazy amounts of overtime, family time missed. All to be frittered away because Sandra couldn’t explain her project to the board of directors.
She rested her head in her hands as she thought about everything she’d done wrong. Her body language, the words that just didn’t come out, looking at the floor when answering questions.
How did it go so badly? A project she knew so well. A project she could usually explain so clearly.
It happens to us all.
Even the most confident among us suffer from anxiety, jumbled ideas, and stage fright when called on to do a presentation.
But, there’s something you can do about it.
Here are the 21 things I wish I knew when I did my first presentation.
#1 It’s okay to be a bit crap
Rough around the edges is far better than word-perfect.
When your presentation isn’t 100% perfect the audience connects with you more easily. They connect better because you’re showing your human side.
Imagine you’re doing a business presentation to convince someone to buy your product or as part of a promotion test. A perfect presentation with everything timed just right can be good, but… A presentation that’s a bit rough, with some restarted sentences and “oh, by the way I should mention’s” can come across as more credible and trustworthy.
Relax, you don’t need to be perfect.
#2 Doing everything right doesn’t mean you achieved your goal
You said good morning. You welcomed everyone. You ran through your agenda. You talked about your three topics. You answered questions, summarized, and closed.
Heck!.. You even used simple, well-designed slides that didn’t take the focus off your talk.
You ticked all the boxes, but nobody paid any attention. Zero people from your audience took the action you asked them to.
What went wrong?
It’s not enough to tick all the boxes. It’s not enough to just go through the motions.
You have to connect with the audience. You need to show you understand their concerns and troubles. You need to show them how you can help them.
#3 PowerPoint is not the star
If your goal is to put your audience to sleep, have PowerPoint front and center.
You know those awful presentations, right?
The ones where the presenter reads every bullet point, careful not to miss a single line. You sit there in the audience, straining to see the total number of slides in the bottom right-hand corner. How long until this nightmare is over?
There are two ways to use PowerPoint effectively in a presentation:
- Don’t use it
- Use it to support a speech you already know how to deliver without slides
#4 “Business” doesn’t have to mean “boring”
A huge mistake newbie presenters make is assuming that “business” presentation equals stiff, formal, and boring.
Audience engagement is a consideration for TED talks and sales pitches, right?
You cannot take the chance that your presentation is boring. You cannot take the chance that your audience is not engaged.
For one critical reason: if the audience aren’t listening to you, if they’re not absorbing the content, you are wasting your time.
#5 Your first job is to give the audience a reason to be there
The most important thing you can do on stage is give the audience a reason to be sitting there.
If the audience don’t know what’s in it for them they’re unlikely to be open to listening to you bang-on for 30 minutes.
Frame your speech in such a way the audience can clearly see some benefits for them.
#6 Knowing your subject is more important than knowing your script
What if technology fails?
What if you forget your lines?
What if someone asks an antagonistic question you weren’t expecting?
If you know your subject well you are golden.
When you write out and a memorize a script, you are practicing under optimum conditions. On stage, things often don’t go as expected. It can throw you off and make you forget your script.
Knowing your subject well, in-depth, overcomes any kind of failure or surprise because you can easily talk about a subject you know well.
#7 Logic won’t win them over
It doesn’t matter how well reasoned your argument is, you are not going win your audience over with logic.
People are emotional first, logical second.
Frame your speech in a way that appeals to their emotions and you’re much more likely to win the over.
#8 If you make a mistake, just move on
If you forget one of your lines or forget an agenda item, don’t fret. Just move on.
If you make a mistake and say something incorrectly, just correct yourself and move on.
The audience doesn’t know what you are going to say, so unless you make a big deal of your mistakes they won’t notice when you make them.
Just. Move. On.
#9 It takes as long as it takes
Forget trying to fill time limits.
Trying to keep strictly to a time limit can be ruinous for a presenter. It can cause an otherwise good presentation to become wordy and drawn out affair. Like trying to meet an essay word count in high school.
Just say what you need and to say and sit down.
#10 The power is in the pause
You lose your power when you overuse your voice, the more you use filler words.
Practice delivering your presentation and replace filler words, like “ummm”, with pauses.
#11 You are in control
A pet peeve of mine is to see a presenter called to the stage only to then take the stage and ask for permission to begin.
This kind of permission seeking negatively impacts your reputation as a confident and credible presenter.
As presenter you are in charge as soon as you’ve been introduced. You are in control.
Don’t ask for permission. Instead, do what you need to do and say what you need to say.
Let the organizer or MC interrupt you rather than asking for permission. Handle the interruption with grace and then move on.
#12 Prepare backwards
Most presenters start their prep from the introduction or from the slide deck.
This is setting the presenter up for a disengaged audience and a boring presentation.
To prepare well, start from the end.
Decide where the audience need to go and how you are going to convince them (positively) why they need to go there. Then everything else just falls into place.
#13 The audience cares as much about your presentation as you do
If you’re enthusiastic about your presentation so are the audience.
If you’re disinterested in the topic, and showing it, the audience won’t feel guilty about ignoring you and checking their email.
#14 Does your audience trust you? That’s up to you
You don’t need to prove to the audience that you deserve their trust, you just have to act like it.
Make eye contact, have a confident body position, speak clearly and slowly, pause often.
Know your topic well.
#15 The audience is on your side
Presenting is tough.
You are being judged by the audience, right?
Well, you are being judged, but not in the way you think.
You feel like they are waiting for to slip up; Waiting for you to fail.
In fact, they are judging how you’re doing to deliver so they know how they should act.
If you look like you’re doing well, they’ll listen more. If you look like you’re going downhill, the audience will release their attention, because it is uncomfortable for them.
You see, love you or hate you, the audience is actually on your side. Failure means discomfort for them also. They want you to succeed.
Remember, the audience is on your side and wants you to succeed.
#16 Even with experience you’ll be nervous
Doesn’t matter how many presentations you do in your life you’ll never remove the anxiety completely.
Harness that anxiety. Use your anxiety as a reminder to give everything you’ve got in this presentation. The more you give the more you build a connection with your audience.
#17 It doesn’t take much to win the audience over
Even the toughest audiences can be tamed.
The key is to empathize with them.
Most business presentations lack empathy. Focused solely on sharing information. No consideration to why anyone should care about the information or what it will mean to them.
To win over your audience talk about how they can benefit. Show them you understand the difficulties they will face learning the new computer system. Show them how you can support them. Show them the brighter future for them (not just for the company).
#18 You don’t know what’s going on in that guy’s head
Stop trying to read the minds of your audience.
You don’t know what’s going on in their work or personal lives. So that scowl, defensive posture, angry-sounding question in almost certainly not directed at you.
Stop trying to mind read and focus on doing the best job you can.
#19 Questions from the audience are good
Many presenters hate question time.
It feels like a trial.
But here’s the thing: the more questions you get the more likely it is the audience have somewhat bought into your presentation.
Questions are a good thing! Welcome them and deal with them confidently and efficiently.
#20 Don’t answer questions without planning
Have a plan for your Q&A session.
Consider the kind of questions you’ll get asked and come up with succinct answers.
Plan to always answer questions in as few words as possible. The more you talk the more time your audience has to “trip you up.”
Plan to put off lengthy answers or ones which might be unclear. For example, “I don’t have all of the data with me to accurately answer that question. Can I email everyone the details later?”
#21 You don’t have to practice if you follow some simple rules
You don’t have to waste time practicing a script over and over again.
Not if you follow some simple steps to prepare your presentation.
- Know your topic really well
- If you don’t know it well, get up to speed before you move on to the next step
- Decide where you need the audience to go
- Decide the three key themes you’ll discuss in your presentation
- Practice delivering your presentation on the basis of knowing your topic well and having the three key themes you want to talk about
What do you think? Let’s chat in the comments below!