Start with a goal
If you don’t know where you’re going it’s hard to get there.
What’s the point you want to get across?
What do you want the audience to do?
Decide what your goal is upfront and the rest of your presentation will fall into place.
Know the viewers
Who are the people in the audience?
What do they care about?
Why should they care about you?
The demographic of the audience shouldn’t change the goal of your presentation, but it should affect the way you frame it.
If your audience is made up entirely of people who will resent the goal of your presentation, it would be wise to throw a lot of empathy into your delivery.Draft in threes
You don’t want to spend time memorizing lines, right?
So, don’t design a presentation that will be tough to remember.
Make it easy to remember by picking only three (or less) talking points.
If you know the subject matter well (and if you don’t, you’re the wrong person to be delivering the presentation) elaborating on your three talking points should be a breeze.
Stick to sans serif fonts
You know what serifs are?
They’re the little tails decorating fonts. Fonts like Time New Roman, and Georgia.
Serif fonts are great for books.
They help your eye follow the line when you’re reading paragraphs of text. They make novels easier to read.
Imagine a 300-word-per-page novel typed with a “sans” serif font like Arial. It would be tough on your eyes.
Here’s the thing though:
You’re doing a presentation, not writing a novel.
On-screen, fonts with serifs are distracting, messy, and tiring for your audience.
Whether it’s a series of bullet points, a label, or a heading, stick with sans serif fonts.
Whitespace has priority
As the presenter, your job is to be present and present.
It’s very hard to do either when you’re competing with slides filled with information.
The priority for any slide, in a good presentation, should be that whitespace plays the starring role.
When whitespace plays the starring role on each slide, the audience can focus on what’s important: the presenter and what the presenter is saying.
If I can’t blank the screen I’m not prepared
Here’s a great test to see if you’re going to be confident in your presentation.
Can you blank the screen and still talk about your subject matter?
If not, that’s a sign you need to do more review before you deliver your presentation.
If so, that’s the sign you can spend more time with the screen blanked and have the audience focused 100% on you.
Evaluate each slide
Once you are confident delivering, and your slide deck is designed, it’s time for a test.
Run through your slide deck and evaluate each slide.
Make sure that each slide is supporting you and you’re driving the presentation.
If you find a slide which starts driving, ie. you’re reading or the slide is prompting you, that’s a sign work still needs to be done.
Cut until it sounds natural
The content doesn’t matter if the presenter has no relationship with the audience. With no relationship, the audience aren’t listening.
To build a relationship with your audience you need to speak confidently and naturally.
While you practice, if you find there a ways of saying things that don’t sound natural, cut them. Find a better, more natural way of saying it.
If you find there are slides that don’t match the timing of the way you naturally talk, cut them or change them so they do.
Have an action plan for Q&A
Question handling is tough.
All those questions designed to trip you up, or delve into the intricacies of your subject matter (sometimes so deep that you struggle to explain them).
The worst thing about Q&A is the snowball effect.
Struggle with one question and then the rest seem to get more and more difficult. Fumble around for too long and you quickly lose the trust of your audience.
With most presentations ending with some form of Q&A session, it makes sense to go into your presentation with a plan on how you’ll handle your inquisitive audience.
Kill dead air
Be prepared to answer questions in some way.
Have some planned responses for situations which could arise:
- Don’t try and answer unclear questions. Clarify what was asked and then answer.
- Answer succinctly. The longer you take to answer a question, the more you tie yourself in knots, and the more ammunition you give to doubters in the audience.
- Confirm the questioner is satisfied after you’ve answered a question. This kills any dead air that would linger otherwise and allows you to move on to the next question smoothly. A simple, “Did I answer your question?” is sufficient.
Further reading: 5 Basic Public Speaking Rules