Presentations are a common feature of our working lives. Being able to articulate clear, engaging messages is a great skill but one not many of us naturally possess. However, you can improve and it’s not as difficult as you think. Yes, you have to overcome nerves and fear but the more you know, the more you grow your confidence, the more those fears disappear. So here are the four Ps for perfect, powerful presentations.
Why are you doing the presentation? The answer might well be “I’ve been asked to” but taking the time to think about the purpose and getting into the detail behind the ‘why’ can reap huge rewards and set you up for success. You also want to avoid any surprises so try to prepare for any unknowns and leave as little space as possible for error.
Firstly, think about the reason for the presentation. Is it to inform or instruct? To persuade or engage? The reason will drive your approach and the content. It might also influence the delivery mechanism or style.
Secondly, who is the audience? Your aim is to connect with your audience rather than just talk at them so who are they? What do they want to know? What do they already know?
As with all good communications, it’s about saying what you want to say in a way that your audience wants to hear it, so do your research and think about who you’re targeting.
Prep needs to be divided into content and visuals and you need to prepare thoroughly for both. I’ve seen far too many presentations fail because people have assumed that they’ll know what to say as they flip through their slides. Some people do this really well, but they are the minority so set yourself up for success and think about what you want to say, where and when.
What are your primary messages? What needs to be said about them? What is already known/implied that you can allude to but don’t need to cover? Map out what you want to say, put the points in order and develop your script so it is clear and concise.
You don’t necessarily need to write your script word for word but have your key points down so you’ll convey the information clearly in a structured way with confidence.
Visuals take a lot of effort to prepare and get right – fiddling with boxes and font alignment on slides needs focus and time so make sure you factor that into your prep schedule. Don’t leave these to the last minute or you’ll be cringing and you’ll throw yourself off-kilter when you see a spelling mistake on-screen or notice that your font sizes don’t match!
Just what it says. Run through your presentation a few times – out loud. This is critical to presentation success because it’s only when we hear text said out loud that we know if it flows. Don’t rely on written notes alone because you don’t know where you might stumble.
Early on in my career, I realised at a (very) important conference that I got tongue-tied when I had to say verisimilitude. It’s a tough word at the best of times but I’d read it in my mind multiple times and assumed it would be fine out loud. It wasn’t and I was mortified when a member of the audience interrupted and said it for me. So, learn from my errors and get vocal with your content.
Even better, try your presentation out on a willing colleague or friend – just because it makes sense to you doesn’t mean it will make sense to others. And this is also a chance to check your tone, posture and speed.
Cringeworthy for many but very powerful is to record yourself. Even better, film yourself. Feedback is not your enemy here, the more you know the more you can fix. And if it’s really bad, try some presentation coaching.
Persuade with passion
A somewhat overused word, passion is important for presentations because without it no one will be interested. Think about it – how many presentations have you been to that should be interesting and aren’t because the speaker is dull. If they aren’t engaging, how can you be engaged?
Optimise your body language and inject some energy and enthusiasm into what you are saying to convince your audience that you are worth listening to. Look out for next week’s tips on energy and preparing your body to ace your presentation.
If presenting fills you with dread, why not book a session of career therapy to help you overcome your fears and help you move forward? Presenting is a skill and it can be taught – trust me, I know because I had to learn how to do it and now I do it well – I still don’t love it, but no one knows that.
Get in touch to see how Career Therapy can help you.