Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Five Tips for Better Presentations

There are few things as deadly as a poorly-conceived business presentation. We've all sat through more than a few, so you know exactly what I'm talking about. So why, then, do we persist in making the same mistakes on our own presentations? Here are 5 simple rules to follow that can help you make your next presentation much more effective:
  1. What's Your Point? — Before you even begin working on your Powerpoint deck, you need to ask yourself "What is the One Main Point I want to get across to my audience?" If you can't answer that question, then you probably aren't ready to even give a presentation. You presentation should start with this ONE Main Point, and each section or slide should essentially provide support for this One Main Point.
  2. The "Jerry Maguire" Rule, a.k.a. "You Had Me at Hello" — Your audience will decide whether or not they like you (and your presentation) within the first 10 seconds, so you need to be completely ready to go, when it's time. Don't be fumbling with a microphone, or fussing with your laptop, while folks are waiting for you to start. Stand tall, make eye contact throughout the room, smile, and be confident. You should know your first three slides cold, and be totally prepared to speak about them without having to look at them. That will help you feel more relaxed, and will help set the tone for a successful presentation.
  3. Repetition is Your Friend — Remember that One Main Point you're trying to get across? You need to make certain that your audience does, too. Even during the most compelling of presentations (you know, like the ones Steve Jobs gives), your audience's minds will wander. So don't be shy about repeating your main point or supporting argument. It's like that old, three-step adage: "Tell 'em what you're gonna tell 'em; Tell 'em; and lastly, Tell 'em what you've just told them..." YOU know your material. You need to be sure that, when you're done, that your audience knows it, too!
  4. Include Audience Participation — Folks who make pre-packaged cake mixes figured this one out a long time ago. You know that Duncan Hines could have easily used powdered eggs in their cake mix, but they chose not to. They understood the power of having the "baker" contribute to the recipe and "create" the end product. You can do the same with your audience, by including leading questions and facilitated exercises within your presentation. Every time you involve an audience member, you bring them a little closer to accepting — and supporting — your point of view.
  5. Deliver With Passion — Remember when you were a little kid, and a grown-up would read you a story from a book...? The uncle who read to you with an excited, animated voice is the one who got your attention! Bring that kind of passion to your presentation. Get out your old copy of "The Cat in the Hat," and record yourself reading it aloud. THAT is the kind of excitement you need to bring to your presentation. Because if YOU can't get excited about what you're saying, how can you expect your audience to get excited...? This, of course, really starts with the words themselves. So, when you're writing your presentation, think about that 10-year-old inner child, and try to bring that kind of excitement to your writing. And don't forget non-verbal cues and body language, all of which go a long way to creating a presentation that's memorable, long after it was given!
There are many other valuable ideas to consider when preparing your presentations, notably minimizing the amount of information that appears on each slide (It's a slide, not a book!), and having a script that doesn't just read what's already on the slide. But the five points listed above have been extremely useful to me in creating succesful presentations, and I hope that they'll be useful to you, as well!

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