Preparing for presentations is tough, tedious, and time-consuming, and the cardinal rule once you're in the room is to engage those in your audience—not put them to sleep.
I'm not asking you to be the next Steve Jobs or Tony Robbins, but a better version of yourself, when presenting your hard work, thoughts, and ideas.
As a senior account manager and adjunct instructor in digital marketing, I have seen and participated in my fair share of presentations. It takes practice and experience to know your audience and learn to quickly pivot if things aren't going well during a presentation.
So let's get down to the seven phases of making an effective presentation.
1. Know your audience
The most important thing to do before getting started on preparing your presentation is to research your audience. Spend some time learning what they expect to gain from your presentation: The more you can connect with them, the more engaged they will be.
Your presentation should cater to the background and needs of your audience. For example, if I'm presenting to a group of accountants, I would make sure to include hard numbers and objective data. On the other hand, if my audience is a team of creatives, I would make sure to include more visual and interactive content.
Write out an agenda telling your story in a clear and concise manner. Each section of the presentation should flow in order and tell a story. Think about the agenda carefully, as it will become the foundation of your presentation.
For example, if I'm meeting with a client for a business review, my agenda flow would consist of past performance, competitor analysis, opportunities, and a road map of what's next.
Here is where things can go horribly wrong. PowerPoint should be used as a guide, not a crutch.
When creating your slides, it's important to make sure your graphs and text are viewable when they're projected onto a screen. All too often, I can barely read or see what is being depicted on a presentation slide because of small type or tiny graphs.
As a general rule, try to keep words to a minimum... and even fewer if you're showing charts or graphs. Often, being economical with words is hard; the main thing to keep in mind is that your audience should be able to view and quickly grasp your slide's content.
One great piece of advice I once received was to record myself with a video or voice recorder when practicing a presentation. That approach was a game-changer for me, when I realized I speak in a monotone and I can sound detached. Now, I make sure to speak loudly and with enthusiasm.
Video recorders are even better, because you can also view your body language during a presentation. Considering that 60-90% of communication is nonverbal, body language is key
5. The Pre-Game
Before your presentation...
- Take five minutes for yourself to breathe and do some power poses. You want to be relaxed and confident before making a presentation. Your body language will say it all to your audience.
- Check the equipment to make sure your laptop can project properly and your presentation is being displayed properly.
6. Game Time
Here we go: You spent hours on your agenda, on PowerPoint, and on practicing; now is the time to shine.
Here are some key suggestions:
- Start strong and be assertive; make your presence known with a loud-enough voice and confident body language.
- Starting off with a short story or surprising fact doesn't hurt.
- If sitting, sit up straight and use hand gestures.
- If standing, walk a bit and point at important content on the screen. Doing so will keep your audience engaged, since they will clearly see and hear you.
- Don't read off your slides! Again, use PowerPoint as a guide, not a crutch. And never, ever, read word for word off your slides.
- It's easy to get off track, so don't talk too much and keep it to the point. You want to keep them engaged and keep what you're saying relevant to the topic at hand.
- Keep your umms to a minimum. I hear those all the time, and they can be maddening.
- End strong with clear action items and takeaways for the audience. Summarize for the audience what the main points are and next steps.
If the situation requires it, send a quick recap email with a PDF of your presentation to attendees. Be sure to include your contact information so that they can follow up with questions and feedback.
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Making an effective presentation takes time and practice, with lots of trial and error. It's an art that never stops evolving, whether you're fresh out of college or you're an experienced professional improving your style.
The key is to make it engaging, relevant, and to the point. Who knows, maybe you will be the next Steve Jobs...