The dummies’ guide to effective presentations

You are up next.

It’s time to show your talent as a presenter. You’ve spent the whole of last week preparing great slides for today’s meeting. You are mentally rehearsing one last time before it’s your turn. Now your first slide is up, and your audience attentive. You are confident, the adrenaline kicks in, and you feel powerful. Everybody should be listening.

Suddenly, on your sixth slide, you realize something is not going as planned. Your audience is disconnected. You start mumbling, your breathing quickens, and your brain is saying, ‘What the hell is wrong with my presentation ?’ Sound familiar? 

Prepare, prepare, prepare

I witnessed a few of these moments and felt extremely sorry for the presenter—that feeling of wasting everyone’s time when it dawns on you that you were unprepared. I don’t just mean rehearsing slides. I mean knowing who you talk to, understanding their needs, figuring out how to connect with them, and sparkle an emotional bond that will lead to a tangible action at the end. The practice is the biggest secret to control presentation anxiety. Do it aloud at home; you’ll know when you’re ready.

Know your audience

Always ask yourself. Who is my audience? Why should they care? What do I want them to do with the information I am providing? Knowing your audience is the most critical part. Your audience is the recipient of what you are sharing. You better give them what they are expecting. It’s called “value.” You need to resonate with them; what are those magic words that will grab their attention and engage them with what you have to say?

What will they get from listening to you? You may be giving them precious advice on managing time, or you may be articulating the benefits of your product; whatever you are trying to tell has to have a tangible benefit for your listener.

Build rapport 

Captures your audience’s imagination with a story that people can relate to, an emotional connection with the listeners. You may use a moment in history, a moment in your life. Use a full-page image to narrate your story. Remember that your audience is the hero, not you. So make it about them, and give them what they came here for your value. 

Asking questions is a great way to engage with the listener. “Imagine” or “How many of you…” are easy ways to get a conversation going. If you make it an exchange instead of a one-way delivery, you will feel less stressed. Remember to warm-up your voice by doing tongue twisters or vocal exercises, coupled with belly breathing; it will help reduce your stage fright. Use long pauses to emphasize part of your conversation, and change the position on stage when you shift to a different topic.  

Describe a problem 

Once the audience is ‘connected‘ with you through your story, it’s time to depict the ‘evil‘ or the ‘issue.’ Describing at this stage what is ‘wrong‘ prepares the audience and builds up momentum for the reveal of ‘your solution‘ and ‘its benefits.’

Describe the solution to the problem

The reason why people came here to listen to you. You have a solution that will help make their lives better. You will be the hero providing an answer to the problem. Be clear, don’t use jargon; sell it as an experience.

Describe the benefits of your solution

Describe in detail how your recommendations will improve their lives. Give tangible examples of how you will help them.

Describe the call to action

Your content doesn’t just have to be engaging and provide value, but it also has to drive some action. Make sure the audience knows what to do with the information you provided. Paint a clear image of what the activities you expect them to do. Your call to action has to stick; simplify the message with sticky words and make sure those words sound “actionable”!

Be concise, clear, and simple

The audience’s span of attention is super short. Go through your slides and find ways to remove or reduce content. Use images instead of text, shorten phrases to the essence. Less is more.  Conciseness and simplicity are super important for a message that sticks. The formula is one slide, one idea. Jot down ideas on Post-Its before opening Powerpointrearrange them at will like a storyboard, do this until the flow of your story is perfect. 

Stick to the allotted time

Start on time and use only the allotted time. Finish slightly earlier if you can. People will respect you for that. Don’t cram 140 slides into a 30-minute presentation! Time yourself so that you don’t overrun.

Enjoy it 

Don’t make it a “performance”; it’s a conversation with many friends at once. Feel good about it. You are offering a gift to them. There is a “present” in every “presentation.”

Presenting is an art and delivering powerful presentations requires structure, story, great slides, and in-depth preparation. Great presenters like Steve Jobs spent weeks preparing and curating every detail of their presentation, from the tone of voice, visual aids, position on stage, and creating fantastic sound bites. (‘A thousand songs in your pocket’). 

There’s a ton of great books I can recommend about presentations. My post is a quick way to get you started.

Are you ready for your next presentation?