Two days in a hotel room. Somewhere in excess of 12 presentations. Some presenters were really excellent. Most were fairly typical of what I see in the business world: presenters reading bullet points, word by word. The differences were quite stark when compared to the strong presenters. What does it take to give a great presentation?
When I prepare for a presentation, I gain confidence. And confidence will lead to a better presentation. I find that I spend several hours getting ready for most presentations. For really important ones, I may spend several days.
There are a few things that I have learned that can make a really big difference in the quality of a presentation. First and foremost: tempo. Speak slower! There is a natural tendency to speak too quickly when presenting due to nervousness. Second is to make eye contact with people in the audience. Talk to individuals and form a connection. And third, pause. Using a bit of silence can create a natural sense of drama and anticipation for what might come next.
Some events will cause anxiety no matter what. A recent example was when I gave my Father of the Bride speech. I was really nervous about that one. But once I started, the anxiety melted away and I was able to be part of a wonderful evening and an amazing moment with my daughter and son-in-law. To combat anxiety, I make sure that I stay well hydrated by drinking lots of water the day before the big event. A good rest, healthy food and exercise can also make a big difference. I practice and I visualize a positive outcome.
Or whatever a PowerPoint presentation is called these days. If you want to keep an audience engaged in what you are saying, stop forcing them to read hundreds of words on a screen. Use as little text as possible. Use images where possible. Simplify the support material. Use stories to reinforce a point. And above all, resist the urge to read off your slide deck.
Less is definitely more.
I have given some presentations where I have not used a single word in the entire deck. But generally, I limit the use of text on the support material. If the presentation is about reading a slide deck, I would rather save everyone the time and simply email the content and ask for any questions or comments.
When I present I remember the following when I am speaking:
- Be positive
- Have fun
- Never read slides
- Remember to keep a smooth tempo
- Maintain eye contact across the audience
- Walk around
- Be natural and authentic
- Share stories
- Show some passion
- Keep the message and content as simple as possible
- Learn from every presentation