6 Steps to Giving an Unforgettable Presentation
If you're like most people, the idea of making a public presentation is akin to getting a root canal. But to succeed in business, especially if you want to make it to the C-suite, you have to get good at speaking publicly. More than that, you have to learn how to get your point across and persuade an audience. The good news is that giving an unforgettable presentation requires skills that can be learned. And it doesn't have to be scary.
Here, experts share their tips -- beyond the usual "make eye contact" and "dress appropriately" -- for making presentations that kick you-know-what:
Step 1: Set goals
Before you can write a speech or even conduct research, you have to figure out what you're trying to accomplish with your presentation. Are you in human resources, tasked with training a group of new hires? Or a team lead, trying to get funding for a project? Maybe you're an entrepreneur, out to show the world that your startup idea is revolutionary. Whatever the case, set a goal and then use it as the basis for both your research and writing. "Anything that does not directly support your specific goal, do not include," says John J. Brady, executive director and principal of Protem Partners, LLC in Philadelphia. "It's noise that distracts from your purpose."
Step 2: Do your due diligence
One of the best ways to calm your nerves is to do your homework. "Preparation and practice reduce anxiety and the likelihood of mistakes, while focus increases the likelihood that your presentation will be effective," says Brady. To do this, you first must research both the topic and your audience. For the topic, you'll want to hit the books (or the Internet nowadays), speak to experts on the subject, and draw from your own experience, assuming this is a topic with which you are familiar.
To learn more about the audience, you can turn to others who have spoken with the group or similar groups, or talk to members of the audience themselves, if possible. You want to get a sense of the style of presentation that will be most effective and the types of things they're looking for in a speaker. Take the research as far as you can. "If possible, find out the layout of the room you will be presenting in if it is a formal presentation," suggests Brady, "so you can make sure to be ready for a formal, standing presence or a seated and more relaxed exchange."
Step 3: Be precise and concise
The sound of your voice is not as mellifluous as you think, so learn when to zip it. "When the audience just needs to know what time it is, don't tell them how to build a watch," says Jerry Rackley, chief analyst at Demand Metric Research Corporation in Stillwater, Okla. As you're writing your script, you should only use fonts larger than 24 points, says Paolo Gaudiano, founder and CEO of Infomous, Inc., in New York. This way, you force yourself to keep it short because who wants to carry around 100 pages of notes. Once you're up in front of the group, adds Gaudiano, avoid those "ums" and "likes," which have become all too common in spoken language today.
Step 4: Connect emotionally
You have to win over the hearts and minds of the audience, says Wendy Witt, director of the Advisors Forum for the Wealth Counsel. "Even business people -- including your boss -- make decisions based on emotion and then use intellect to justify those decisions," she adds.
Share the story of your work and why you care about your audience, suggests Witt. Then, use visuals, stories, data, and statistics to illustrate your points.
Step 5: Be visual
Instagram and Pinterest would not exist if humans weren't all about images. Video, slides, and photos are excellent ways to drive home a point you are making. However, you should not go overboard. Your explanation should still be the driving force of the presentation, say experts. Whatever you do, avoid posting slides that are full of text, including lists of items you're about to share. "If you put up a whole list of bullets," warns Gaudiano, "rest assured that the audience will be reading them faster than you can speak, and they will lose track of what you are saying."
Step 6: Practice, practice, practice
Then, practice some more. Time the speech to make sure you're not droning on or stopping short of telling the whole story. Many veteran public speakers videotape themselves to get a sense of how they're doing and to make modifications. You can also practice in front of someone, who can give you feedback. Be objective when assessing your performance. "I ask the ultimate question of myself before I finish my presentation preparation," says Steve Mattoon, founder and president of Sense & Company LLC in Newport Coast, Calif. "'If I wasn't required to attend, would I want to attend this presentation?' If the answer is no, then I have more work to do."
Preparation is the key to confidence, which is the key to relieving anxiety about public speaking. In the end, all you have to do is know your stuff and share it.