HOW TO: DELIVER A GOOD PRESENTATION
I'm currently en route back to New York, having spent the last couple of days in Arizona giving my first formal presentation for a hospitality brand.
I've spent much of this year in front of an audience, moderating conversations with some pretty high profile people, but presenting is a whooooole different thing. While I can't claim to be an expert in the field just yet, I obviously spent some time doing research into what makes for a good presentation beforehand. Here are some tips I picked up, along with a few fast-learned lessons of my own.
SOLVE THE PROBLEM
The main thing to remember when giving a presentation is that you are there to impart knowledge on how your audience can address a specific challenge. You’re there to speak of your own professional experiences - but only so much as they apply to the theme at hand. While you'll have to provide some context for who you are and why you’ve been asked to speak in in the first place, it’s important to remember the presentation isn’t actually about you! Your audience will be listening out for advice that helps them to reframe their own dilemmas. Make sure that you deliver it, rather than going off on a 30 minute rant about yourself and/or your business.
WHAT’S YOUR STORY?
Human beings like narrative arcs. We like concepts we can follow from start to finish. Basically, we like stories. So, when you’re thinking about how to frame your presentation, ensure that it has a clear beginning, middle and end.
This is where all that essay-writing you were forced to do at school/university comes in to play: before you get started, handwrite a plan that outlines the question, explains how you’re going to answer that question, actually answers it, then draws a nice neat conclusion at the end. Take this flow and translate it to your slides, making sure that each segment of the presentation is equally weighted (i.e. don’t spent twenty minutes introducing yourself, and only five minutes rushing through your key points). Be sure to end on a strong note by looping back to your introductory theme and explaining how you’ve just answered it. *Smugface*
GO HEAVY ON THE VISUALS
Let’s be honest: presentations tend to be tedious. If you’re giving one in a corporate setting, it’s likely that your audience has already been sitting down listening to speakers for a long time - which is why it’s worth trying to make your presentation as fun and engaging as possible (while still staying professional, obviously).
An easy way to do that is to make sure you’re delivering on an aesthetic level: If you’re using Powerpoint - or my Google Drive dupe of choice, Slides - forgo lots of bullet points and dry data and rely on imagery instead. You’re there to deliver a (hopefully!) compelling and persuasive speech, not read out a written report. Spent extra time pulling together photos and graphics, and be sure to use a clean, elegant, large font for any headlines or key prompts.
PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE (THEN BREATHE)
It doesn’t matter how confident you are about your chosen topic; there’s something about speaking in front of a crowd that stresses a body out. Prepare for your voice to tremor, your knees to shake, and maybe even some profuse sweating (whatever you do, avoid grey marl clothing....) This is all normal: Public speaking is frequently ranked as most people’s biggest fear, so hopefully your audience will have some empathy if you seem a bit shaky. Obviously, you don't want to come off as an amateur, so minimise your own nerves by making sure you’ve gone through your presentation at least half a dozen times in advance, ideally delivering it out loud in front a sympathetic friend of family member. Just before you step out, do the deep breathing thing for a few minutes. It helps. A lot.
KEEP IT SIMPLE AND CONCISE
Creativity is subtraction. Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. Keep it simple, stupid. Etc. Etc.
Even if you’ve been booked to speak for 30 minutes, plan your presentation to run for 25. (A good way to gauge timing - other than through sheer practice - is by allocating about a minute and half of speaking time for each slide. You probably won’t be able to remember much more than that per point without notes, which you should avoid using if possible.)
If you’re confident in your ability to speak fluently without fumbling around with cue cards, prepare fewer slides than you might want to. Knowing that you only have, say, eight visual cues to carry you through a 20 minute presentation will help you pace your talking - I definitely raced through my talk a bit faster than I intended to. Doing this also gives the audience a chance to really absorb each (hopefully, dazzling!) point you have to make, rather than trying to process a vast amount of information at breakneck speed.