Love them or hate them, there’s no denying that presentations have become an essential component of business life. After all, they are an effective way to convey complex information to a group of people, and have been used to sell, update or educate for decades. But the success of a presentation often lies with the skills of the presenter, and this is where things start to fall down. At Learning Curve, we’ve seen a lot of presentations over the years, and have put together 9 top tips for making your presentations informative, memorable and creative.
The best and only way to deliver a truly great presentation is to prepare for it thoroughly. After all, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. If you’re not sure where to start, you should write out your key messages on post-it notes, and then rearrange them into a logical order. From this view, you can take out any repeated messages and tweak the arrangement until the information flows in a reasonable way. An effective format is to use past-present-future, e.g. ‘This is what we have done in the past / this is the way we do things now / these are our plans for the future.’ Now, think about your audience. What do they already know? What technical knowledge do they have? Are they attending voluntarily, or are they being sent? How many people are you expecting to attend? Don’t forget to consider the more practical side of things as well – like have you booked a room, do you have enough chairs, and do you need to organise refreshments at all?
Structure Your Presentation
When you’re creating your presentation, you need to make sure it’s structured in a way that makes sense. In general, there are five stages to any presentation:
- Introduction and opening statements
- Main messages
- Questions and answers
- Closing statements and questions
Your main messages section can contain any number of points, and you can repeat sections 2 and 3 as many times as you need to cover all of the information.
Open With Impact
Just like a good book, the opening of your presentation needs to really grab the attention of your audience. The opening of your presentation is where you need to engage your audience and get them involved. Ask a question, or make a statement that will make them think. You could try using a quote (providing it’s relevant to your presentation).
Use Visuals Wisely
We’ve all sat there at some point and experienced ‘death by PowerPoint’. You know, those presentations where the presenter shows a slideshow covered in text, and reads from them word for word. These presentations are tedious for everyone, and usually serve no more value than just sending around the slides. So instead of going too text heavy, try to make your slides a support, and not the whole presentation. Use your slides as ‘jumping off points’ and talk around them. But keep it brief – 6 slides is plenty for a 15-minute presentation. It’s also worth remembering that if you’re using handouts, save them for the end as a reference. If you hand them out during, people will pay more attention to them that what you’re saying.
Use Your Voice To Create Authority
Your voice can have a big impact on how people respond to you, particularly during a presentation. If you’re nervous, you might be inclined to speak faster, to hide a waver in your voice or to just get it over with. But slow down, keep your voice tone varied and use pauses powerfully. Speaking more slowly than normal will help you appear more confident, and pauses help you appear in control. Altering the volume of your voice occasionally will add variety, and ensure your audience are still paying attention.
Never Underestimate The Power Of Body Language
The question we’re most often asked about presentation skills is ‘where shall I put my hands?’. Well, you should leave them at the ends of your arms of course! But on a more serious note, it’s usually best to keep you’re your hands above your waist level, and use them naturally. Avoid clasping your hands together, fidgeting or over-gesticulating in a way that becomes distracting. Move around a bit as you speak, and use your hands to emphasise the points you’re making. Also, you might not feel much like smiling, but it really does help! You’ll find yourself more at ease than if you don’t, and your audience will feel more at ease.
Handle Questions Confidently
At the end of your presentation or at strategic pre-planned points, you should always leave room for questions. This is the area that scares a lot of people, because they get nervous of someone asking a difficult question. But in truth, if you handle the questions confidently, then you don’t need to be nervous. When a question is asked, repeat it to make sure everyone has heard it, and to ensure you’ve understood it properly. This gives you a little bit of valuable thinking time. If it’s about something you’re covering later, say so and promise to answer it later. If you do have an answer, go back to the person who asked and check they’re satisfied. And if you don’t know the answer – say that too! Point out that it’s a great question and you’re not sure of the answer right now, but you will look into it and get back to them. Don’t try to make it up on the spot – you’ll rarely give a good answer and people will be able to tell you’re unsure.
Don’t Let Nerves Hold You Back
Nerves are natural when speaking in front of a group of people, but don’t let them get the better of you. Being well prepared will help alleviate some of the nerves, as will rehearsing the presentation before you give it. That doesn’t mean running through it in your head – it means standing up and giving the presentation out loud, preferably in front of someone who can give you balanced feedback. If you do find yourself getting nervous before or during the presentation, take some deep breathes and slow everything down. Remember – everyone is rooting for you.
At Learning Curve, we specialise in helping professionals deliver exceptional presentations. You could be the CEO looking to brush up on your skills, or you could be a brand new sales or technical person who needs to learn the basics. You may wish us to design a training programme that is tailored to you and your team, ensuring you get the most out of it and learn some valuable presenting skills. Alternatively you may wish to attend our highly successful ‘Presenting With Impact’ workshop. For more information, or to book your consultation today, just get in touch.