The problem with many of the presenters I coach is diffidence. Often, they are so self-effacing that they write themselves out of their own story.
Before we had presentations, we had public speaking – a performance art on a par with drama, ballet or opera, in which personal magnetism played a prominent role.
But public speaking has been largely displaced by PowerPoint presentations, where the slides take centre stage and the presenter is reduced to acting as voiceover – a role that is all-but redundant when, as is often the case, all the text to be presented is on the slides and the audience can read it for themselves.
There are two problems with these all-pervasive presentations: first, they tend to be dull, uninspiring and instantly forgettable; secondly, they do nothing to enhance the profile and reputation of the presenter.
If you want people to listen to what you say, remember it afterwards and respond to your call to action – and why else would you be giving a presentation? – then you need to raise your game and aspire to being the star of your own show.
I accept that this is not easy for stressed and time-poor executives, so here is a range of improvement tips for people who have as little as one hour or as much as a whole day to improve their presentations.
If you have just an hour…
…work on your opening. Research suggests that audiences make up their minds within a few seconds about whether to pay attention. If you can engage them at the very start, there is a chance that you will hold their attention with what follows.
If you are proposing to offer the standard intro – name, position, title of talk, disclosures – think again! Instead, do or say something novel, arresting or surprising. Tell us a story, ask a pertinent question or present a startling fact. Make the presentation relevant by telling us why it matters to us and why we need to listen.
You don’t need to create a slide for this purpose. Just face the audience and engage them.
If you have two hours…
… clean up your slides. Text-heavy slides are counter-productive at best, their only purpose being to serve as an auto-cue for the presenter rather than a visual aid for the audience.
If all the words you are going to speak are up on the slide what can you bring to the party? If you simply read out what’s on the slide, your audience will be way ahead of you because reading is faster than speaking. If you paraphrase the slide, they will have to decide whether to listen to you or read the text. It is simply not possible to do both at the same time.
The best thing you can do is strip the text down to key words or phrases and ‘build’ them so the audience can focus on one point at a time. Reserve the wordier version to give out as a handout at the end.
When displaying complex technical slides be sure to ‘add value’ by guiding us through them, drawing attention to what is most important and bringing your own expert perspective to bear on their interpretation.
If you have half a day…
…refocus on your content. Put away the slides for now and think. What is the story you are trying to tell with this presentation? What is your big idea? What are your key messages, and which is the most important? How do you want your audience to change their attitudes and/or their behaviour in light of what you say?
Plot all this out on paper. Once you have achieved clarity, go back to your slides and select only those that serve your redefined content. If necessary. create some new ones – keeping them simple and text-light as described above.
If you have a whole day…
…practise, practise, practise. Do this out loud in front of the mirror or another person who can be trusted to give you honest feedback. Film yourself on your ‘phone and critique your own vocal technique and body language. Do you look and sound confident, relaxed and enthusiastic? Do the words you have written down sound natural when spoken aloud? Are the emphases in the right places? Are you pausing for long enough between points – and between slides – to keep your audience with you?
Run through the whole presentation several times until you are completely familiar with the order of the slides and what you are intending to say about each one.
If you find you are having to rush to cover all the material in the allotted time, be ruthless and edit some slides out. If you find you are a few minutes under time, don’t worry. Things usually take longer in front of a real audience – and nobody ever complains that a presentation is too short!
Photo by Marcos Luiz Photograph on Unsplash
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