Many of us have to give presentations as part of our careers but we’re often not as slick and prepared as we could be.
Broadcaster Kate Russell knows a thing or two about how to give a polished presentation. Best known these days for presenting the Webscape section of the BBC’s weekly Click tech magazine show, she has been on British TV since 1995 and will be sharing the benefits of her experience in an upcoming TNW Academy class. I had a chat with her to find out more.
TNW: Hi Kate, can you give us a brief of overview of what your course is about, and the type of people who you think will appreciate it?
Kate Russell: You’ve heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint”? This course is for anyone who wants to avoid being a presentation murderer… Whether you’re presenting to a live audience at a conference, sales or marketing pitch or in front of a class of students. You could even be putting together some content for your website or a promo film to advertise a special deal.
There is really no reason (or excuse) to use the flat and lifeless medium of PowerPoint, or pay a professional animator or graphic artist a couple of thousand quid to make something that doesn’t really say what you want it to say anyway. There are plenty of great, often free tools and resources online that will help you get creative with your presentations to really grab your audiences’ attention and get them interested in what you have to say.
As well as great tools and tips to help you make the prefect presentation, we’ll also be looking at a bunch of really neat ideas to broadcast your message online to audiences of up to 250, or on a big screen at a live event – the perfect way to get people using your hashtag and talking about what you are promoting.
TNW: How long have you been presenting for? Have they all gone smoothly or can you share some ‘challenging’ moments to reassure us all that things don’t go according to plan 100% of time?
KR: My first TV job was in 1995, but I was in sales before that so I’ve really been honing my skill since the late 1980s. Among my more memorable disasters was delivering a sales pitch about a ‘robust music player’, which promptly fell apart the moment I touched it, and getting champagne spray in my face live on Sky Sports as I interviewed the winner of the Speedway Grand Prix.
I was mortified to hear the studio presenter compare the situation to a wet-T-shirt competition, but I was too busy dealing with the agony of cheap champagne in my eyes to come up with a cutting quip to put him in his place. It was a good lesson though, about always having a back-up quip for every possible scenario, especially when going live on Sky TV!
TNW: What’s the first thing that you consider when preparing a presentation?
KR: Am I going to make anyone fall asleep/walk out/want to kill themselves (or me)? Joking aside though, even if the information you have to deliver is not exactly gripping, there are ways to subtly engage your audience so that you can get the message across effectively.
Humor is important, and there are some sneaky psychological techniques you can use to make sure you keep the attention on you throughout the duration of your talk – but you’ll have to join me on the 21st to learn those!
TNW: Is it really possible to create a good-looking presentation without buying expensive software that’s difficult to use?
KR: Absolutely! Having spent the last 10 years reviewing websites for the BBC, finding free stuff is kind of a specialty of mine (not that we’re cheap at the BBC of course!).
Software has also become much more intuitive in recent years, becoming easier to grasp and (dare I say it?) fun to use! Having spent a lot of time finding and refining the use of these tools I can give you the perfect ‘leg up’ the learning curve by stepping you through the very basics during our class, which you can then refer back to once you tackle them yourselves.
I am also always on hand to answer questions through Twitter if you get stuck later on!
TNW: What is the most common issue with presentations? Any quick tips on how to fix it?
KR: One of the most common mistakes is to put too much information on a slide, thinking that the content must make sense to any casual observer. But that is your job as a live presenter! There are physiological limits to how much information the human brain can process and if you are giving your audience a novella to read on screen at the same time as talking to them about your ideas, what will actually happen is they try to take in everything and fail to take in anything at all!
If your collection of slides has sentences and (god forbid) whole paragraphs of text on them, consider turning them into a printed hand-out your audience can take away, then delete most of the text until you are left with a handful of abstract words or ideas that you can elaborate on when you speak.
TNW: There are plenty of professional companies in this space, despite the competition is it possible to draw in a large audience for a presentation using a small budget?
KR: The trick to attracting a large audience is to promote your presentation in a way that looks interesting and fun to watch – you definitely don’t need to spend a fortune to do this. Check out this promo I made in an hour for an example:
Any promotion you do should also tie back into the style that the actual presentation will take so that people don’t walk out in their droves after the first ten minutes!
TNW: Do you have any final words about your course or the art of presentations?
KR: Delivering your pitch with confidence is also key as a nervous speaker tends to produce a nervous, agitated audience. There are some really simple tips I can share with you to help you achieve this, even if you don’t consider yourself a confident speaker.
My aim with this course is to give you the tools and inside knowledge to make sure people remember your presentations – and for all the right reasons!
I am also on a mission to rid the conference world of the scourge that is dull, unimaginative PowerPoint decks – those who sign up for this class can consider themselves my foot soldiers! I hope we’ll have a lot of laughs too.
TNW: Thanks Kate!
Kate’s Russell’s TNW Academy course, Address to Impress: Perfect Presentations takes place on November 21 and costs $99. Sign up while there’s still room!