What makes a good presenter and what are good presentation skills?
What do they do (or not do) that makes us think they are effective to make us want to listen to them?
Why do we know what a bad presentation looks like, but can rarely pinpoint what makes a presentation excellent?
Here are our top tips.
Plan, Design and Deliver are 3 areas covered briefly in this blog, along with essential component number 4 – YOU.
How many of you start to prepare a presentation by opening PowerPoint or similar software and start to create your slides with a Title, Introduction etc and work through it, adding text as you go? If you do not have a clear plan of where you are going, how will you know when you have got there? Cliff Atkinson in his 2005 book, states that starting to create your presentation in PowerPoint before you have your key points and logical flow first worked out (on paper or a white board in my case) is like a movie director hiring actors and starting to film before there is a script in hand. If you prepare your presentation on PowerPoint from the outset you will, more than likely, have to go back and start pruning and thinning out the number of slides.
A good presentation has a beginning, middle and an end. Logical I hear you say. So what’s new? Start your planning with the end result in mind, the vision of where you want to take them. Next, work on the beginning then finally concentrate on the middle bit. Let’s assume you know your subject matter, so you do not need to rehearse or learn the content. What you need is the confidence to deliver it in an informative way that your audience will understand and be captivated by. Think of how you will capture their attention.
What do you want the audience to go away remembering? Try writing a sentence that describes the key elements you want them to remember. This may become the summing up at the end. What are the 3 key things that you want them to take away and remember about this presentation? Focus your attention on delivering these in the most dynamic way when you design the content that has impact. Do they have an action plan to carry out? If so, refer to this throughout the presentation when the relevant sections are discussed.
Don’t start with “Good morning/afternoon, welcome, thank you for attending”. By all means load up the presentation and get it ready with the first slide, but do your introductory speech with the screen blacked out (try Shift B). Start with something that relates to your subject matter. Draw their attention and engage, interact with them from the beginning by starting your presentation with your first statement question as you walk to the centre stage or amongst the audience. Avoid talking through that list of topics you are going to cover – they may switch off too early – get their attention in a different way.
The mnemonic INTRO that is used in training can be used for the start of any presentation.
- Interest or Impact
Think of a way to grab the audience’s attention right at the start. A simple statement or question is often enough. For example, for a new product launch “What is the main benefit of XYZ product in your opinion?”, for sales bonus incentives “If you could earn x amount extra each month, how you would spend it?” or “Your work life balance would be more in balance if work stayed at work and life at home did not include work.” Keep the question/statement relevant to the topic. Get them talking, get them thinking and get their feedback on the points you raise.
This is the WIIFM factor – What’s In It For Me? Make a few statements that will hook them and that what you are about to say will focus on the benefits of a new product or may lead them to that extra monthly income or how to balance work and life better. Ask a question such as “What do you expect or want to gain from this presentation?” Be aware that all of the answers may not be part of your content, so be prepared to pick on a few answers and say that you will concentrate on these in the presentation. The audience will feel more involved and engaged if they feel they are leading the content – adults like to have some control in what they do and participate in.
Tell them how long your talk is – adults like to know and plan their lives around fact. Remember to stick to your timing. Does this include time for questions at the end?
What you will cover – but do not read that list from the slide! Confirm the key points of your presentation.
What they will go away with, be it knowledge or an action plan.
Once you have a plan, you can start with the software that supports your presentation. Note the word “supports”. You are the lead actor; you are not playing the supporting role to the presentation software.
You may have heard that you should: have a good template, use animations carefully, not have too many words on each slide, or indeed no complete sentences and so on. There are some guidelines for the design of your slides – the key one is not to let it be your script. Bullet points are useful for focus, but do not write too much information – you are there to talk to them, not to read to them. Prune those slides, there is nothing more annoying for an audience than being able to read the slide then have to wait whilst the presenter reads aloud each point. Add pictures and diagrams and let your audience use their imagination.
The actual delivery is rarely without some form of prompts or guides. These may be a print of slide order in handouts format, or using a presenter view to display the main slides for the audience but you see the notes on your own laptop.
Earlier we mentioned starting the planning phase with the end in mind. If you focus on 3 key points that steer you to that end, you have a basis to work from.
One of the things to also remember is will you be able to deliver the content without the slides in the event of technology failure? Can you deliver your presentation confidently with the aid of only a flip-chart or whiteboard if technology throws a spanner in the works?
Good presenters move about, use gestures, and have an open body position. They display a natural body language, not one that is practiced or forced. Try not to stand at the font all the time, walk amongst the audience if the room layout permits. You moving about will relax you and your audience will get a visual workout by following your walk around the room. Try a dry run of your presentation in front of a mirror and watch for your own gestures, facial expressions and body language such as stance.
Maintain eye contact with the audience so it allows you to project confidence and credibility, and monitor how your message is being received. Do not talk to the slides.
Embrace and use mistakes, do not be afraid of them, in fact expect and welcome them. If you handled correctly, mistakes make the audience warm to you and you become more human and gain their support, so long as there are not too many! Remember that many people in the audience have never given a presentation and would hate to be standing up front and delivering a talk.
Is it a lecture or speech or are you able to make it more interactive and have discussions? Ask the audience! Involve them and get their opinions.
If they ask questions that you do not understand, ask for clarification. If you do not know the answer, do not waffle – just state that you will endeavour to find out and get back to them after the presentation. Keep the answers to questions as short and succinct as possible. If you have a Q&A session at the end, you move from the structured, planned speech to the unstructured section with surprise questions. You relax because the hard part is over, but there is a tendency to ramble on a bit with your answers to the questions because you are now in ‘chatty’ mode. The longer each question/answer goes on, the more the impact of your presentation is diminished and the more likely your audience is to pick holes in the presentation and start finding new questions to ask. Try avoiding the Q&A at the end and tell them at the beginning that they are free to ask questions as you go along. It is more relevant to the point you are discussing and you do not have to backtrack at the end.
Don’t hang on to the laser pointer as if your life depended on it. The same goes for any cue cards you feel you need. Remember that the audience’s focus is on you and if your focus is on anything other than them for more than a couple of seconds, your credibility rating will drop.
- Know your topic – the more confident and knowledgeable you are, the more likely the audience will pay attention
- Get as much information about your audience to pitch your presentation at the right level
- Aim for the end result, stay focused and do not get distracted
- Prune the slides and cut the waffle
- Plan – the beginning, middle and end. Think of key words for each section that keep you on track, even create your own mnemonic to help you remember the order of topics. Focus on 3 major points to keep your talk on track
- Fewer words more pictures
- Practice – Try a pilot run through in familiar surroundings with a colleague, especially if you are presenting in an unknown venue. Try delivering your speech to yourself in front of a mirror or try recording yourself on video and watch the playback. Work on any points that you feel an audience would pick up on – but do not be too harsh on yourself, you are you own worst critic.
- Take a deep breath, smile and do not be afraid of silence.