The most important moments in our careers tend not to be when we are sitting at a desk. Whether it’s a conference speech, a job interview, a business presentation or a meeting, getting our ideas across means turning away from a computer screen and towards an audience.
When we are composing an important email, we tend to try things out, add, delete, edit and hone our message before hitting send. But what happens when we’re face to face, in the meeting room or auditorium? What preparations should we be making to maximise the impact we have and achieve the outcome we want?
These are my top tips for a successful presentation
1. Know your audience: Who am I talking to? What do they know about my subject and how might they feel about it?
2. Sketch out your structure: How long have I got to speak? What points do I want to make? What outcome am I aiming for?
3. Develop your content: When you have your structure, think about your slide deck and your script. Give equal attention to what you're going to say and what you're going to show. If you are relying on other members of your team for content, make sure you verify and understand it fully. Don't think you can wing it and get by.
4. Find your natural voice: Inject some personality and humour into your presentation. Have an opinion and make your argument – but make sure you can substantiate your claims.
5. Rehearse: Practise what you're going to say. Make sure it’s out loud. Don’t leave it to the last minute, so that you will have the time to make refinements. Listen out for ‘umms’ an ‘urrs’ and other ‘filler’ words and practise pausing instead. If you hate the idea of rehearsing, remind yourself that it’s worth suffering the pain in your rehearsal to avoid it in your presentation.
6. Be spontaneous: The paradox of spontaneity in the context of presentations is that you have to plan it. Make sure you know your material inside out so you don’t need to read from your script. Have sufficient grasp of your wider subject to be able to answer questions confidently.
7. Cover off practical issues: Check the room and facilities at the venue. Arrive in good time to make sure you can set up before the start time.
8. Make eye contact: Making eye contact with your audience is a key way to connect with them and build their trust. When you are talking, try to sweep the room rather than look at your slides. When you're listening, hold the gaze of the person who is speaking.
9. Don’t rush: There is a tendency when presenting to start off at a slow pace and gradually speed up as the finish line comes into view. Remember, when you change gear your audience might not and you risk losing them.
10. Debrief after any presentation: Make a note of what went well and what you would do differently. That way each meeting or presentation is a learning opportunity and, whatever the outcome, you'll gain from the experience.
For more help with improving your presentation skills, developing your confidence and understanding your audience, sign up for John Scarott’s Presentation Skills course on 23 April 2019