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Be your best at presentations

Most of us have done or attended many presentations, with varying results and enthusiasm. This newsletter will distill the state of the art of presenting in six easy steps, as outlined in the book “Presentations” by David G. Lee & Kristie Nelson-Neuhaus, to help you prepare and give the best presentations. 

Step one: What story do you want to tell?

Presentations are like stories, meaning that people learn something that they didn’t know through them. So ask yourself: What do I want the audience to learn? What is your information like: exciting or routine? You can tailor your presentation style based on the type of information that you’re sharing. In all cases, be purposeful. You may want to define your purpose in a hand-written sentence before you start making PowerPoint slides. This will serve as a guide to help you achieve your objective.

Step two: Who is your audience?

Think about the people who will hear/see your presentation. What are their needs? What are their styles? Why are you doing this presentation? What types of questions are you likely to get asked? How much time do you have? Do presenters in this setting generally allow time for questions? How long? Are there any trouble makers in the room?

Step three: Shape your story

This step includes thinking through and shaping your key messages. It is these key messages that tell your story. You might want to limit yourself to no more than five key messages.

Tips for your key messages

  • Use positive language, with short but complete sentences
  • Write out presentation drafts and let them distill in your mind, then make the slides or handouts
  • Use language that is familiar to your audience
  • People tend to unite around slogans and concrete phrases – your presentation can model this effective style

Supporting material

Each message can have supporting materials, which further define the key messages. Presentations are meant to be illustrative, not comprehensive, and your supporting material is there to help you make your point. Supporting material includes information that you already have and information that you research for the presentation. This can include:

  • Comparisons
  • Explanations
  • Quotations
  • Statistics

Step four: Presentation aids

While PowerPoint has certainly changed the nature of presentations, it’s important to remember that there are many aids in addition to this tool. All presentation aids should support the purpose of your presentation. These can include:

  • Music/sounds
  • Skits
  • Demonstrations
  • Art
  • Handouts
  • Costumes
  • Performers

You should always be able to explain the need for an aid that you will use.

Step five: Text and visuals

Let’s say that you are doing a typical Powerpoint presentation. Think back to presentations when you were in the audience and consider how much you remembered or were stimulated by the material. Generally, Powerpoint slides used with a combination of visuals and words sustain our attention and are remembered most easily.

Graphs can be a very powerful tool to help tell a story. According to the Economist, the bar chart, pie chart and line graphs were created in the late 1700s by William Playfair, a Scottish engineer. His work has helped many people present and absorb information on many topics. Of course if overused, they can make your presentation murky and hard to understand. So it’s a good idea to aim for a balanced use of visuals, including some graphs and words.

One multi-national company limits each Power Point slide in its presentations to 24 words. Is that enough to get your point across? It’s fair to say that 240 words on a slide are too many – we have probably all seen that type of slide.

Make sure that your fonts are consistent in size and location on the slides. As viewers, we can react to very slight formatting differences in a negative way, without necessarily knowing why.

Step six: Time to do it

First, you might want to have someone review your presentation beforehand to get feedback on the clarity of your message and purpose, as well as to look for typos and other errors. You may want several people to have a look

So now you’re ready to go. The room and equipment are set up and people will be arriving soon. There are two main components at work here, beyond your slides or other material: verbal and non-verbal cues and actions.

You of course want, and need, to make a good first impression, as this counts for a lot. You need to know your audience and your own style as well. Knowing your own style comes from asking others for feedback after prior presentations. If this is your first time presenting at a particular company, you might ask a colleague to sit through a brief style audition.

Some of the additional non-verbal actions that can impact your presentation are: gestures, attitude, movements and the energy you put into this task. If you appear bored with the material, or not interested in it, this will come across. You want to captivate, not alienate.

So you’ve done the presentation, and now come the questions. This is also an important time for you, as you respond to questions, the occasional heckler, and even the lack of questions. That’s when you can ask a question yourself: “The question frequently arises….” And give an answer.

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