Your audience is seated. The room is quiet except for the faint hum of your computer. Your first slide is projected on a large screen. You have your notes and you're ready to go — it's show time. You begin
your presentation, and then...
What usually happens next? Do you wow the group and finish with congratulations for a job well done? Or do you wonder if people are bored or confused as you stop to consult your notes? Even if the answer falls somewhere between these extremes, most of us walk out of our presentations feeling that
we could have done better.
And yet there are some people who consistently deliver outstanding presentations. They're usually the same people who close more sales, are noticed by superiors, or get approval for projects. What's their
secret? Are some people just better speakers than others? Perhaps, but there's actually much you can do to make your next presentation more effective and engaging — by focusing on the three 'Ps' of
presentations: Prepare, Practice, and Present.
Let's take a look at the art of making a presentation in practice by exploring each of these three "Ps."
The first, preparation, is when you lay the groundwork for a successful presentation. Planning your presentation covers a lot of territory:
Defining your objective and audience
Identifying your key message and supporting arguments, and
Enlivening your talk with a hook and other engaging content
Without a clear sense of purpose and an understanding of your audience, even a well-constructed, engaging presentation may miss its mark. For example, imagine you are to give a presentation about budget cuts. Would you give the same presentation to the people whose jobs may be in jeopardy because of the cuts — as you would to the shareholders whose primary interest is the overall financial health of the company? Not likely! So how do you decide what to say to whom?
To define your objective and audience, ask yourself a series of questions: What's the purpose of the
presentation? Do I want to inform, persuade, or sell? Who is the audience? What do they care about? And what do I want my audience to do as a result — learn? understand? take action?
For example, in the case of the budget cuts, do you want to reassure anxious employees and get their buy-in? Or, do you want to convince restless shareholders that you are about to turn a corner? There's a big difference!
Next, you want to identify your key message and supporting arguments. What do you want people
to remember? What action do you want them to take? Your key message flows directly from your objective. For example, if your objective for a presentation on budget cuts is to reassure anxious employees, your key message might be that the proposed cuts are necessary to get the business back on track. The action you want from the employees is their buy-in. You want them to work to the best of their abilities within the budget constraints. Carefully clarifying the connection between the cuts, the future of the business — and their livelihood — can help you gain their support.
Once you have defined your key message, it's time to build arguments to support that message. Avoid
excessive detail. And talk about more than just the facts. It's important to address the emotional underpinnings of your message. Ask yourself, "Why should people care?" Answering this key question will help you structure the presentation as well as write a catchy opening. Enliven your talk with an initial hook followed by other engaging content. The opening is your
chance to grab your audience's attention. If you succeed in connecting with them at the outset, they'll be much more receptive to what follows.
Engaging stories — whether about adversity, nostalgia, or triumph — can establish an instant rapport
with your audience. For example, you could start a budget cuts presentation with a story about another company that faced a similar situation, yet was able to rebuild itself and make a comeback. Or, offer a vision of what your company could look like in a year. Whatever approach, look for a way to connect with your audience right from the start.
A hook is key, but you can't stop there. Continue to hold your audience's attention. Use illustrations, charts, and graphs to demonstrate key points. Ask questions that show your interest in their ideas. Finally, keep in mind that the last thing you say may be the only thing people remember. So end strong! A call to action is a good way to close.
So. You've put a lot of hard work into preparing your presentation. You've got your notes and you're ready to go. Right? ... Wrong! Perhaps the most common mistake is made at this point. Remember that preparation is only one of the three "Ps" of presentations. The second "P" — practice
— is just as important, yet often neglected. Stop and think. When would you like to learn about the holes, dull spots, or excessive detail in your presentation? Before you've delivered it — or after?
Practice. Rehearse until you can give your presentation without sounding forced or checking your notes frequently. If possible, practice in front of a colleague. Ask for suggestions on both your content and your speaking style. You might even find it helpful to videotape yourself. Listen to the feedback and then tweak your presentation. Fill in any gaps. Cut boring detail. Brighten the dull spots. And make sure you have answers to any questions your audience might ask.
Once you've practiced, and revised, your talk, you're ready for the third "P" — the actual
presentation. Keep in mind that your delivery will impact your audience's response to your message.
Think back on the presentations you've enjoyed. What did the speaker do to hold your attention? Read from a script? Hardly. While it's reassuring to have notes, refer to them only when you need to. If you've practiced enough, you may not need them at all.
You want to be able to face your audience and make eye contact. Avoid standing behind a podium. Use body language to your advantage. Walk around the audience or add movement when you want to demand control or increase involvement, then pause to let the audience consider an important point or question.
In addition to thinking about what you are doing during the presentation, watch the audience for
nonverbal clues. Do people look confused or bored? If so, you may need to stop and provide an explanation. Or, ask a question to regain the audience's attention.
Finally, consciously take time to pause and breathe. Breathing can help you relax and reduce the use
of filler language, such as the familiar "um" and "er."
Most people are a little nervous (and some are very nervous) about making a presentation. But remember, you can learn to give an effective presentation by attending to all three "Ps" — preparation,
practice, and presentation.
Somewhere along the way, you may have decided that you don't like to speak in public. But if you give yourself a chance, over time you will likely find that you become more relaxed. And you may even begin to enjoy speaking before others — as you gradually become one of those people who
closes more sales, is noticed by superiors, or gets approval for projects!