Making great presentations: top tips

London - 4th January 2010 - How many presentations are you likely to make this year? Does the thought fill you with horror? I’m one of those strange people that actually quite likes presenting. It’s the aspiring actor in me I guess. I’ve been on skills training courses, read the books and scoured the net. I have a fair bit of experience too, so in the spirit of sharing, I’ve been preparing my A-Z of better presentations.
A is for Audience. Quite simply, find out as much about your audience as you possibly can. How many people will be there? What are their backgrounds and interests? What’s their reason for being in the meeting? Once you have names you can Google search them, see if they’re on LinkedIn, twitter or Facebook. The more you can learn the better. Some people call it stalking. I regard it as gathering intelligence.
B is for Body Language. Before you’ve said a word people will be judging you. They’ll be seeing how you’ve dressed, they’ll notice if you’re tense and fidgety, or relaxed and authoritative. When you start talking make sure your audience isn’t going to be distracted by mannerisms you might have, like jangling the coins in your pocket, or covering your mouth with your hands when you speak. Above all, smile. You may not feel like smiling, but a smile conveys calm authority, and that’s always a good message.
C is for Clarifying Questions. To some degree you are in control of your presentation. As long as you’ve prepared and practiced, it’s all about delivery. Questions can be tricky. Make sure you know what’s actually being asked. Sometimes it’s helpful if you confirm the question, not only to ensure you’ve understood it yourself, but to make sure the rest of the audience has heard it too. Buys you a moment or two to compose yourself and contemplate your answer too.
D is for Dress code. It used to be simple. Everyone wore suits. It isn’t now. Best confirm the dress code, as it gives you some clues to the organisation’s culture too. Think about what you wear. Lots of people sweat when they’re nervous, so wear something that keeps you cool and is a little forgiving. It never harms to pack a spare shirt, tie or blouse, just in case there’s an accident with that early morning coffee.
E is for Eye contact. You need to memorise as much of your presentation as possible, thus allowing you to establish real eye contact with people. That means more than skimming across the room. It means establishing one to one contact with as many people as you can. It helps maintain their attention.
F is for Fonts, specifically, use large fonts in your slides. Fewer words have greater impact, and are easier to read.
G is for Graphics. A mix of words and graphics will enliven your presentation materials. Be honest, do you read the whole of a dense text document? Do you get bored seeing slide after Powerpoint slide of bullet points? Mix it up a little so that the audience doesn’t know what’s coming next.
That’s A to G. I’m taking my own advice and keeping it brief. I’ll start with Housekeeping next time. Can you contain your excitement?
Happy new year, and all the very best for a healthy and successful 2010.