By Daniel Bobinski
We’ve all been there. We’ve all endured dull, mind-numbing presentations. In fact, in a recent survey of 1,500 business professionals, more than 25 percent said they had attended presentations that were so boring they’d fallen asleep! That said, not everyone is good at giving presentations. And regardless of skills learned, research has shown that only four percent of the population is comfortable speaking in front of an audience.
One phrase I often use in my Train-The-Trainer workshops is, “The ability to stand up and talk does not a trainer make.” Still, just about everyone must give presentations from time to time, so allow me to jump right in and offer some time-tested advice that might help.
Obviously much more can be said than what we have room for here, but take these five tips to heart and your presentations should have some added impact.
Don’t just nod your head on this one and move on. I mention this first because it really is the most important thing you can do. The more time you spend preparing for your presentation, the better it’s going to come off. Know how you’re going to open, how you will introduce your topic, how you will transition between sub-topics, and how you will close. If you don’t think these things through, chances are slim that things will go smoothly during your actual presentation.
A good first step in preparation is answering some basic questions. Who is your audience? What, exactly, will your presentation be about? What does your audience already know about the topic? What new information do you have for them? What is the best way to connect the new information with what they already know? How long will you present? Will you have a projector available? If so, what images will help you convey your main points?
Those are just a few of many questions to ask (and answer) in the preparation phase. Also be sure to make a good outline so your topic flows logically.
2. Create and/or gather your materials
Will you provide handouts? Will you need graphs or charts? Think about how things would look to the person sitting in the back of the room.
If using PowerPoint (or similar), look for good photos that convey your information, and also use limited words on your slides (think Steve Jobs). It’s not uncommon for good presenters to spend hours finding just the right photos, and limiting text to 10 or fewer words on a screen. Sometimes more text is unavoidable, so don’t be afraid to make more slides out of a longer piece of text. One of the things audiences despise is a wall of text. You wouldn’t sit through a television program that did that, and your audience won’t like it either, even if it’s in bullet points.
Something else to consider is the variety of materials you’ll use. If you’re giving a short five-minute presentation, this is not as important. But for longer presentations, the more you can stimulate your audience visually, the more they will be impacted by what you have to say. Visual aids can include handouts, white boards, flip charts, PowerPoints and 3-D models. Use whatever you like, but you’ll have a much stronger connection with your audience if you use at least three different media, especially for longer presentations.
3. Practice a lot, and picture yourself giving the entire presentation
Practice at least once per day and don’t stop even when you can do it confidently. Also, if you can mentally “see” yourself presenting successfully, your chances of success go way up. Some Olympic athletes spend time imagining themselves doing an event in addition to their actual physical practice. Research has found that the mental practice can be just as effective as real practice.
Other presentation tips: Decide where you will you stand in relation to the screen or your other visual aids, and never, ever turn around and read from a screen. Always face the audience.
4. Practice your eye contact
Studies show that body language comprises anywhere from 50 to 90 percent of communication (depending on the study), so if your body language is not making a good connection, your presentation is lacking punch. Eye contact is perhaps the most powerful component of body language.
In all my years of teaching Train-the-Trainer courses, I’ve found the best way to help people connect with an audience is by using the concept of “one thought per pair of eyes.” In other words, connect with one person’s eyes (preferably someone who’s giving you positive visual feedback) and finish your thought. Then, move on to someone else and finish the next thought. By using this method, you connect better with your entire audience, because your audience sees you connecting and then they feel connected, too. I have my clients practice this at home by making eye contact with anything (a pillow, a lamp, etc.) and finishing their thought before moving on to another object. You will perform as you practice, and this is a powerful technique for practicing eye contact.
5. Wrap up with a brief review
Even if you go through your entire presentation without a flaw, you’ll leave your audience hanging if you neglect a quick review of what you’ve covered.
Your audience will feel like they got a complete package if you tell them up front what you’re going to cover, then cover it, and then wrap up with a brief review of what you covered. The phrases “In conclusion,” or “As I wrap this up” are great segues for you to summarize what you covered. Never introduce new material in your conclusion – just review the main points of your presentation and then finish up.
Remember, no presentation was ever ruined by being too short, but thousands have been ruined by being too long. When you’re done, you’re done, so wrap it up. And if you follow these tips, chances are your audience will remain wide awake and engaged.
Daniel Bobinski, M.Ed. runs two businesses. One helps teams and individuals learn how to use Emotional Intelligence. The other helps companies improve their training programs. He’s also a best-selling author and a popular speaker at conferences and retreats. Reach him at email@example.com or 208-375-7606.