What’s your story?
Whether you are pitching to clients or speaking at a conference, it’s critical that your presentation connects with, and engages your audience. One of the most compelling ways to achieve this is by telling your audience a story. Like all good stories, it needs to have a strong beginning, middle and ending. It needs to be full of excitement and challenges and be told with passion and conviction. Your story will provide order to your content and structure your presentation, providing clarity and meaning to your key messages, giving each of them significance in their own right.
Who are your audience?
Knowing your audience is key, who are they, what makes them tick, how can you best connect with them? Try to think of your audience as a collection of individuals rather than a homogenous group, make each one feel like you are having a personal conversation with them, they may all be hearing the same messages, but each one is getting something different from the experience.
Finding out about your audience will allow you to tailor your presentation more effectively. What do they already know about your subject? What information do they want to know from you? What are the messages you want to leave them with? This will differ from audience member to audience member, and will affect your content and structure. By knowing who you audience are you can maximise your potential to make an impactful and informative presentation.
Stick to the facts
Reinforce your messages with clear facts. Verifying your opinions with evidence will make your story memorable and believable, even add some drama, if delivered correctly.
Sketch your presentation
Once you have your story and structure, designing and creating graphics to illustrate you messages is really valuable. But stop, do not turn on the computer, instead grab a pen and paper and sketch some ideas for graphics. Presentation design software by its very nature constrains ideas, using a pen and paper means you can think more freely about how you might visualise some of your points or what graphics might work to enhance your points. Let your ideas flow, don’t worry if you can’t draw, it’s not a competition, order your ideas into a story board for your presentation and only then think about which software package to use for your delivery.
Simplify your graphics
It is a well-known facts that complicated graphics, too much copy and charts showing monthly sales figures since 1066 are a huge turn off to audiences. And yet so many presenters’ slides look exactly like that. If your presentation is not grabbing your audience’s attention, not only are you wasting their time and yours, but you are also risking the potential outcomes for your business.
Design and structure your content in a way which not only makes sense to you audience but also grabs their attention living long in their memory after the presentation is over. Think about using key phrases and emotive imagery to talk around your subject rather than outlining every bullet point in great detail. Do not overload your slides with text, the audience can and will read, faster than you, if there is a lot to read they will spend time reading the words and not listen to what you say. Whatever you do don’t be tempted to read your slides to them.
Charts or diagrams to explain trends and processes are great, but strip back the data, removing all but the most important figures, the audience may not want to or need to know the sales increase for every day on the year; what they will want to know is if you are ahead of your competitors and the overall profits for the year.
Design your graphics
Your on screen graphics are there to back you up, not trip you up, do not over complicate the design or the animation of them. Your audience should remember your message, not how confusing or awful you content was.
When it comes to fonts and colours, keep it simple, use neutral colours and easily readable fonts for your main content, saving bright colours for accentuating key points. Try bolding fonts, increasing size and changing colours to emphasis key messages.
Animation can be really effective when used properly and in context with the flow of the presentation, used inappropriately it only serves to distract the audience and interrupt your flow, killing your delivery.
When did you last hear of an actor picking up the script on the way to the stage or a gymnast performing a routine for the first time in competition? It never happens, practice really does make perfect. Not only will your delivery be better, but you will feel more confident too.
Start by practising the key points and structure of the presentation at first, once you’re happy then run through it word-for-word a few times.
Don’t forget, you may have heard it all before but for your audience it’s the first time, try to strike a balance of knowing what you are going to say, but not just going through the motions and sounding bored with your own speech.
Turn up early
Wherever your presentation is being delivered be it a small meeting room in your offices or a company conference at an external venue, stuff happens, turning up early to double check everything is crucial, is there a projector, does your laptop connect to it, can you be heard at the back? Checking that the technical equipment is working correctly is not just the professional approach, it will allow you to relax and focus on the job in hand of delivering an impactful and outstanding presentation.
It may be at a larger conference there will a Graphics Operator to help you with your slides. Make sure they have the right version of your presentation.
Communication is not just what you say
Presentations are not just a one way communication, the audience are engaging with you too. They want to be spoken to, they want their questions answered and they want to feel engaged, ask rhetorical questions that make them think and answer. Make eye contact with the audience; look for their opinion on what you are saying. Don’t just speak your presentation. Deliver it with passion and intent, all the time projecting to the audience your belief in what you are saying so that they will too.