The Challenges of Presentations
We are truly alone at two moments in life: when we are on stage delivering a speech, and when we die. No wonder people dread what is such a critical part of business life.
Many people detest making presentations. They suffer greatly before the "big day," sweating the content and their delivery, and agonizing about how they will be viewed professionally after the presentation.
Such angst is unfortunate, because with preparation and practice, delivering presentations can be a great way to advance a career and positively promote a company's message. And, dare I say it—it can even be fun!
The difference between failure and success in presentations lies in a couple of important considerations: What is the speaker's objective for the presentation, and what is the audience's payoff for listening?
Constructing a Winning Presentation
1. Research the audience. No presentation can be successful without background research. The best presenters understand their audiences—what their concerns are and what language they speak. The best presenters also understand why they were invited to address the audience. Presenting to customers, for instance, requires a very different approach than speaking to an industry-association audience of peers.
2. Deliver the engaging and the unexpected. The planning process for every presentation includes considering how to engage the audience. The best speakers make their presentations thought-provoking, inspiring, even memorable.
Tools are great ways to engage and surprise an audience: a video that helps make a point, a question that encourages the audience to contemplate an answer, a prop that helps illustrate a concept.
The important decision is determining which medium is best to deliver the message and which suits the speaker's personal style. Some people can tell a story using only brief notes. Others work best with presentation slides—which should always be easy to read and understand—fewer words and simple visuals are good rules to live by.
3. Is there a story to tell? One of the best tools is a story—an interesting personal experience that allows the speaker to lead into the topic, a case study that shows how someone or some company was successful, or a parallel situation from history that takes an incident from a completely different time and place and ties it to the situation at hand.
Good storytellers generally make the best speakers because they understand how to build the story, how to intrigue the audience, and how to deliver the payoff.
4. Be audience-appropriate. When presenting to an association audience, I once used a horror-movie clip that showed an unsuspecting man opening the door to a serial murderer. The tongue-in-cheek point was that if a company opens the door to customer feedback (particularly if customers are angry), it'd better be prepared for whatever feedback is provided.
The next week I did a different presentation on new computer tomography (CT) technology. Needless to say, the same video would not have worked with that audience of radiologists.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Delivering a strong close is critical. That is where the speaker makes sure the audience is rewarded for the time it devoted to listening. Remember to tie the closing to the opening so the entire presentation makes sense, and share some lessons learned or summary thoughts.
Preparing for the question-and-answer session is an important part of the presentation-planning process. Depending on the situation, speakers may want to put together a list of possible questions they could be asked—particularly the ones they really don't want to be asked—with well thought-out, appropriate responses. That can be the most important aspect of presentation preparation. One tough question handled without thought or preparation can undo all of the goodwill earned during an entire session.
Developing responses is closely followed in importance by practicing tough responses. Voice, tone, and word selection all affect credibility. The tougher the question, the more likely the respondent is at risk of sounding defensive.
When to Use a Presentation Coach
No matter how experienced the speaker, it's great to periodically get feedback from a pro. A good presentation coach can help boost speaker confidence, improve the content and engagement factor in a presentation, and determine achievable goals depending on speaker experience and capability.
Offering presentation coaches for our speakers is one of the best services our marketing department at Toshiba offers. Business leads, managers, and even customer presenters have all taken advantage of the service. The trick is selecting the appropriate coach for each speaker. The coach for a physician speaker may be quite different from the coach for the sales vice-president.
Evaluating the Feedback
Many event organizers survey the audience about speaker content and presentation. These surveys are a great source of feedback and can provide some important lessons. The event organizers may not always provide the feedback to the speakers automatically, so asking for that feedback may be necessary. It's also great to know what kinds of feedback will be solicited to understand how the speaker will be measured.
Spending time at the event after the presentation is also a good way to collect feedback. Audience members may tread softly so as not to offend, but generally they will talk about what they were looking for and hoping to hear. And if the presentation was good, they will offer that information directly to the speaker.
A Marketing Strategy Tool
Creating a speakers bureau of internal speakers as well as customer presenters is a great marketing strategy. Nothing beats face-to-face presentations, or even live webinars, for explaining complex topics, making a persuasive argument, or building rapport and awareness within a new market segment.
Toshiba's speaker bureaus have been in place for several years now, and they have become a critical part of the company's marketing strategy, delivering great results in lead generation and market visibility.
Organizations are always looking for good speakers with current content. Once the presentation is given, the material can be repackaged as byline articles, case studies, and other promotional materials.
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Keep in mind the points made in this article, and you'll be able to create more successful presentations, build confidence in internal clients and customers, and expand your company's success.