Congratulations – you’ve been asked to give a presentation. Whether it is to an internal audience of 5 or a keynote address to 500, today I’d like to share some tips to prepare in advance so that you give the best presentation you can. First, of course, make sure you are clear about the topic of the presentation. Assuming you know what you have been asked to talk about, here are some guidelines for giving good presentations.
Research the audience
Who are you speaking to? Find out from the organisers of the event or your manager – or even ask a couple of the people who will be attending. You need to establish how much they know about the topic, so you can pitch your material at the right level. You don’t want to use jargon they won’t understand, but equally you don’t want it to be so basic that they don’t learn anything useful. When I spoke in Paris recently I needed to adapt my presentation for a French-speaking audience. I changed a few slides to put more words on the screen as I figured this would help their comprehension. I also practiced speaking much more slowly.
Establish what they want to know
The key to a successful presentation is not sharing what you find interesting, but sharing what the audience finds interesting. What is the key message you want them to take away from the presentation? What’s the story you are telling? And why are they coming? If your presentation is part of an event where there will be multiple speakers, like a conference, the chances are that the event is themed. People are coming because they want to know more about topics in that theme. So don’t digress: make sure that you are telling them something that is relevant to them – not just fascinating for you.
Develop your ‘story’
Now you have an idea about what they would like to hear, how will you get there? Think about what examples you can share from your projects to help you make your point. Consider including screenshots of your iMindQ mindmaps or other illustrations that will help clarify your message. Plan out the ‘story’ for your presentation, so that your arguments flow logically from one slide to the next. When you have an idea about what you want to say it and how you want to say it, you can start working on your slides. Of course, you don’t have to have slides. For an internal presentation you could use a handout, or nothing at all. However, if you are new to presenting it is useful to have something to refer to as a prop – but you don’t need a lot. Fifty slides for a half-hour presentation is far, far, too many.
Practise, practise, practise. Plan for the worst. What happens if the projector doesn’t work or the laptop is broken? This might be the only chance you have to convince the senior managers of the need for more money on the project, or to include a critical new feature. Can you still do your presentation without slides? Take paper copies of your slides or other material along with you just in case. If you are presenting somewhere unfamiliar, rehearse the journey as well. Do a practice run at the same time of day as you will be doing it for real. In the case of my presentation in Paris, I wasn’t able to do that fully, but I did go and find the venue that afternoon so I knew where I would have to go that evening.
If you are using PowerPoint, use Presenter Mode. I learned about this from Scott Berkun’s excellent book Confessions of a Public Speaker. It makes presenting easier as you can see your notes on the screen, plus a clock that tells you how long you’ve been running for. Using this means I don’t forget any of my key points and I am able to keep to time – believe me, organisers will thank you for this, and you don’t risk getting cut off part way through your presentation. I have seen that happen to presenters and it isn’t good.
Deliver (and get feedback)
The final stage is giving your presentation. Get to the venue early, especially if it is not in your usual office. Set up your laptop or equipment before people arrive, if you can. If you are speaking to an external audience and it is appropriate to ask for feedback, take along some feedback forms as the organisers might not have any. Whether you receive feedback on forms or verbally from the participants, make sure you act on it! Remember, feedback can be mixed, and needs to be taken in context.