Giving a presentation is as much an art as it is a craft. And itâs becoming increasingly important in todayâs world of startups that those who are going to pitch and present need to have a sense of what to do not just when theyâre up in front of everyone, but what to do before and afterward as well. Thereâs much to do when putting together a presentation that just canât be covered up by the passion the speaker feels for their subject matter, and Iâve seen plenty of presentations and pitches both in large and small settings. Whether youâre going to present at a large conference or in front of a small group of venture capitalists in a board room, knowing how to give a presentation is going to give you a big leg up on your competition.
Iâve not only seen plenty of presentations in my time, but Iâve given many. Having spoken in front of hundreds of people at an event to facilitating a workshop with a small group of health care workers on how to be more productive, Iâve had to adapt and deliver on several occasions in differing speaking environments. In order to help you get the most out of yourself (and your audience) at your next presentation, Iâve come up with this guide to giving presentations. Iâve included a bunch of things to do and things to avoid, and by heeding this advice you should have a much better chance of connecting the next time you step up in front of a crowd and deliver the goods.
So letâs get startedâ¦
Be prepared on every level
Whenever youâre booked to give a presentation, make sure you go in prepared. That doesnât just mean knowing your material and speaking points, either. You need to put yourself in a position that allows you to deliver what youâve got to say with as little friction as possible.
What does that mean exactly?
First off, donât rely on the gear. That means that you had best be ready in the event that there are compatibility issues with the devices available, or that you wind up in a room that has unreliable wireless access. While Iâve heard from other speakers that they like to bring their own gear, Iâve found that even if you do that thereâs a chance that one dongle you donât have is the one that will work on their projector (yes, itâs happened to me). And even if youâve verified what equipment needs you have and what is available, things can change between that verification and the day of the presentation.
By preparing a talk that can connect with your audience whether delivered with our without the use of technology, youâre putting yourself in a position to succeed â and you actually end up focusing more on the content of the presentation than the context as a result. What I do is prepare a Keynote of my presentation for when I know that a Mac is available for use (PowerPoint for Windows), I prepare a version of my presentation on Prezi in the event that I donât want to be platform-dependant (and know thereâs a reliable Internet connection), and I also have a one-sheet to hand out at the end of my presentation that contains important points and URLs that serve to give the audience a chance to review my presentation at their own leisure later on. This way, Iâve got myself covered no matter what surprises may await.
Other ways to prepare yourself are more obvious, but just as important. Things like limiting the number of words per slide (as recommended by Garr Reynolds in the highly regarded book Presentation Zen) and making sure you know your material inside and out. Notice that I didnât say âmemorizeâ your material, which brings me to the next major area of focusâ¦.
Sir Ken Robinson has said that while itâs important to know your material, thereâs a danger in over-rehearsing it.
ââ¦the danger in rehearsal is that it is possible to seem too rehearsed when you present. That is, we may seem too perfect, too inflexible, too unnatural, and though technically perfect, we may lose the ever important natural connection with the audience. And I say if there is no connection, there is no communication.â
By rehearsing liberally you are not only soaking in your material, but you are also keeping your presentation in a better state of âfreshnessâ. Knowing your material and not being married to how it is going to come out of your mouth is freeing. It lets you be more relaxed and conversational (another key public speaking tip that Robinson has offered), so youâll genuinely appear that way to your audience.
Give yourself some breathing room in your presentation, or youâll find that you wonât be able to breathe very well during your presentation at all.
I remember doing a Pecha Kucha talk in front of a general audience on the topic of productivity a few years ago, and I decided to try to be really clever about it. The problem was that I was too clever. The audience wasnât into productivity as much as I was and my entire talk didnât resonate with them. I watched as the audience tried to get on board with me, but simply couldnât because I took the wrong approach. I wasnât accessible enough, and the talk flopped.
You have to remember that not everyone will know (or be as passionate) about what youâre presenting on as you are. Make sure that your talk is accessible to as many people as possible. Whether that means using a ton of laymanâs terms or adding in touches of humour throughout, itâs important to make sure that what youâre saying is as engaging as it is informative. No matter how hard you try, without having a healthy dose of both of those qualities, you wonât have a successful presentation.
The focus is you
This leads back a bit to Reynoldsâs point about limiting the words on a slidedeck: people should be focusing on you and your presentation, not your presentation alone. If you prepare accordingly and know your stuff, then the technology and slideshows you use will simply augment the presentation rather than overshadow it. You wonât have to worry about asking your audience if they can read the text on the screen (or, worse, have to read it out loud for them), theyâll be free to focus on you and what youâre saying. No matter how hard you try, people will filter your presentation, and each person will do it differently. Some filtering will be intentional, and some wonât. Thatâs why people take notes â to help them with both types of filtering (and itâs also why you should have a one-sheet at the ready for them when you wrap things up).
If you focus on you, then your audience will be able to do so that much better. How do you improve your chances of having the focus on you? Through preparation and rehearsal, thatâs how.
Since the focus is on you, the control defaults to you as well. You donât need to concern yourself with messing up lines and then apologizing for them during your presentation because no one will know that you did unless you tell them. As a former actor and comedian, Iâve dropped my share of lines during live performances. Rather than dwell on them and circle back, I just kept goingâ¦because thatâs what professionals do. The audience is never the wiser unless you fill them in. So donât.
Being as prepared as possible allows for more focus and control. Being mindful of the content of your presentation keeps you focused on whatâs important and also lends itself to a sense of more control. You cannot control anything else in these situations other than yourself. How you prepare, how you perform, how you react â thatâs all on you.
Image Credit: Ben Stanfield