Can I tell you my worst nightmare?
Speaking to a roomful of people and realizing the only thing they are thinking about is how to get as far away from me as they can.
It happened to me more than once.
Reciting my meticulously practiced script, or pointing to a graph or table I’d slaved over the night before… I look up and discover the audience are more interested in Mary from accounting’s wedding pictures than the x-axis label I’d spent 10 minutes sweating over at 2am.
At the time these experiences were ego-bruising. After each blow I thought I’d never recover. Over time, these negative experiences helped me refine and improve my presentations.
Below are the 6 areas I focused on. A little at a time. Discovering what worked and what got a positive response from the audience.
Choose any point from the list, focus your energy there and you’ll see massive improvements in your presentation delivery.
When you’re preparing for your presentation it is tempting to jump on PowerPoint and start banging out slides with bullet points.
Before you go anywhere near PowerPoint spend time planning what you are going to say.
Start with a blank sheet of paper and brainstorm:
- What are the interests of the audience?
- How can I frame my presentation to benefit the audience?
- What are the 3 key points in my talk
- What do I want the audience to do following my presentation?
Planning this way helps you to get your thoughts in order and be clear about what you need to tell the audience.
Write out your script and memorize it, right?
This is the worst way you can practice your presentation.
You’ll set yourself up to sound like a robot no one wants to listen to.
The written word is very different to the spoken one. Here are two ways to prove this:
1. Write out your speech and then read it back word-for-word while recording the audio. Listen back to the audio. Sound good? Nope. Sound natural? Nope.
2. Go to TED.com. Watch a speech and write down the first 200 words spoken. Now read them back. Sound weird in writing? Yep.
Here’s what you need to do:
Know the topic you will talk about very well. Know the topic so well that you can talk about the important points without any kind of prompting. Write down the 3 key points you want to talk about in your speech. Now practice talking about those 3 points without a script. Done!
“Good morning. Thank you for coming to my presentation.”
The audience are already checking their watches and thinking about what to have for lunch.
You need to open your presentation with a bang. You need to catch the audience’s attention immediately or you lose them forever.
Understanding the audience’s interests will help you.
If you understand the audience, you can make short, relevant statement at the beginning of your talk to hook them in and keep them listening.
4. Interacting with the audience
Your relationship with the audience is everything.
Treat the relationship like gold.
It doesn’t matter how great your idea is, or how compelling the logic of you talk is. If your relationship with the audience is not good, no one’s listening to your logic or your great idea.
Build the relationship the same way you would in a regular conversation. Talk naturally. Ask questions. Interact with the audience. Bring them with you, rather than talking “at” them.
You can do a great talk, but if your closing is weak you’ve wasted your time.
There are three things you should think about in your closing:
- Be succinct
- Ask the audience to take some action
- Avoid dead air
Avoid being wordy. Just say what you need to say and be done.
The more you talk, the longer your sentences, the more wordy you are, the more the audience will feel you are pushing too hard.
Short and sweet works best.
Ask the audience to take some action
Don’t fall into the trap of leaving your audience guessing.
The purpose of a presentation is to inform, and then advance a cause or project. Most presenters get the first part, but not the second. Advancing a cause or project means asking the audience to take some action.
Typical presentation closing:
“To summarize, I talked about a, b, and c. Are there any questions? Thank you very much for your time.”
The audience feels like you just stole their time. They don’t know what to do.
Better presentation closing:
“To summarize, I talked about a, b, and c. Are there any questions? Please review the handouts I’ve given you and send me your opinion by Friday. Thank you very much for your time.”
Avoid dead air
Taking questions is a dangerous time.
It’s the end of your presentation. You’re exhausted. You just want to get this out of the way.
You answer a question and suddenly there is dead air in the room. You wait to see if there are follow-up questions while the audience wait to see if you are going to say something else. Split-seconds start to feel like minutes.
Kill dead air by asking your own question after you have responded to a question.
Ask: “Did I answer your question?” The audience member you address is forced to answer, you are then able to move on, and there are no long silences.
Dead air gone!
6. Slide design
Slide design is important.
It is important because it will make or break your presentation.
Slide design will add impact to your presentation or destroy it.
The key to good slide design is not to commence designing your slides until you know what you are going to say.
Once you know what you are going to say, design your slides to support your talk. Avoid typing wordy bullets or slabs of text because these will only serve to distract the audience from what you are saying.
It’s a wrap!
Take any single one of these points and implement it into your presentation. You’ll be amazed how much your talk improves.
What are your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below…