Keep your audience engrossed from start to finish with these twenty-one simple presentation tips…
1. Know the Room
By developing a familiarity with the presentation room beforehand, you’ll be able to give your audience a far superior experience. Visit the area well in advance to identify any issues that might affect your delivery. Is an unruly blind causing projection blur? Does the room carry an obtrusive echo? These and more are factors your audience really should not have to endure, so recognise and resolve them as early as possible.
2. Avoid Jargon
You may expect your audience to have full prior knowledge of the subject at hand, but what was that ancient proverb concerning the perils of assumption? Speak in plain English to ensure that any impromptu visitors don’t fall victim to your techno-speak. And should you suspect that certain viewers are falling behind, don’t be afraid to make repetitions.
3. The Effective Pause
Used strategically, pauses will not only allow you to prepare yourself to deliver the next point, they’ll also allow your audience to absorb the information you’ve just given. Beware, though, that your pauses are not spent fumbling with your laptop or preparing the next slide. Instead, use the time to display confidence in your material by maintaining strong eye contact with the audience.
Never rely on your visuals to carry your presentation – you may come across as languid and spiritless. So keep your slides simple, with clear, abbreviation-free illustrations and not more than thirty words on each. Then talk your audience through the material, expanding on your major points and using appropriate anecdotes to seal your arguments in the viewers’ memory.
5. Never Apologise
Searching for a way to lose authority and respect? Easy, just bombard your audience with constant apologies at every minor hiccup. To affirm your position as a competent host and power figure, train yourself to remain dignified in the face of misfortune.
PowerPoint acting up? It’s “Bear with me a mo” not “Sorry it’s so slow”.
6. Accept the Nerves
Whether it’s your first ever or your thousandth, nerves go with presentations like storms at sea; you never know just when they might pop up. But if you learn to harness your nervous energy, you’ll be able to give an all-round more effective presentation – and improve your confidence for the next time.
For a full list of jitter-busting tips, please see our dedicated guide here.
7. Savvy Structure
Unfortunately, your audience’s concentration levels will tend to dip after your initial introduction, and remain in this decreased state, more or less, until a sudden perk-up as you approach your closing statements. Take advantage of this trend by emphatically delivering your most important points at the beginning and end of your presentation.
8. Dress Rehearse
You’ll want to rehearse – fully clad in your finest presentation attire – at least once before the big day. Ensure that your slides, projector and other apparatus are all in fine working order, and record yourself rehearsing. By then listening to the recording, you’ll be able to gauge your vocal volume and clarity, and add material if you find that the talk falls short of its intended length.
9. Reveal Yourself
Preferably not literally, but if you express some of your own unique character traits during the presentation, your audience will be able to relate to you on a personal as well as professional level. In turn, your pitch will become more memorable – and its major points far more effective.
Audience interaction should not be reserved solely for the Q&A session at the end. If you surge through your presentation without giving your viewers the opportunity to comment or raise questions, you’ll risk giving the audience the impression that they’re being spoken “at” rather than “to”. So, pre-designate certain points in your pitch when viewers will be free to voice their thoughts.
11. Plan for the Worst
Disasters seem to strike at the very least convenient of times, so plan your talk under the assumption that a mid-point power-cut will zap your pitch to an untimely demise. Bring along all the notes you’ll need to deliver an impromptu non-AV presentation, and don’t forget markers for re-creating your slides on the whiteboard. Should the worst happen, your spontaneous aptitude will not go unnoticed.
The use of fitting, relevant analogy can be an excellent way to articulate complex ideas and concepts. If you’re describing your recovery from a past mistake, why not liken your experience to the near-fatal plight of the Apollo 13 astronauts who, finding themselves at the mercy of critical conditions following an explosion en route to the moon, were nevertheless able to find a way home through raw hard work and determination. Your audience will not only learn – they’ll remember, too.
13. Use Humour
As a relaxation tool, the power of humour is not to be sniffed at. An appropriate joke here and there can help you to build rapport with your viewers. And the more rapport you’re able to build, the more convincing your arguments will become.
14. Avoid Clichés
Stock photos, clip art and over-used phrases will certainly set you apart – as an uninspired speaker with nothing new to say. Information conveyed through original and exciting methods will prove far more memorable to the audience – and infinitely more gratifying to you, the presenter.
15. Manipulate the Mood
By selecting specific colours as backgrounds for your slides, you’ll be able to subtly affect your viewers’ state of mind. While an orange background might inspire action or motivation, for example, a grey one might emanate maturity and professionalism. For maximum effect, alter your background colours slightly whenever the subject and tone of your pitch changes.
16. Metaphorical Illustrations
Like analogy, figurative pictures can prove extremely effective in putting across detailed theories and conceptions. If you’re delivering an academic presentation explaining the rise of the Soviet Union, for example, what more memorable way to do so than by symbolising the pre-revolution atmosphere as a pot of soup simmering on a stove.
17. Text Formatting
Standing before your projection, it’s easy to forget how differently your slides will appear from a distance. So make sure that your text is large enough and in a plain enough font to be seen and understood from anywhere in the room. Also, avoid red lettering and ill-contrasting backgrounds to ensure adequate visibility.
18. Use a Microphone
Whether you’re presenting to ten people or a hundred, the use of a microphone will ensure that you’re well heard, even while moving around the room or writing on the whiteboard with your back to the audience.
19. Arrive Early
By turning up a good thirty minutes early, you’ll be able to iron out any technical niggles and, more importantly, meet your audience as they arrive. In doing so, you’ll get a clear idea of your viewers’ demographics and can make last-minute changes accordingly; it could be that the joke you’d planned to open with might not be so appropriate after all.
20. Exciting Handouts
Always remember that colourful, illustrated handouts are infinitely less dustbin-prone than their black-and-white, stat-packed counterparts. And why not add a little extra into the bargain? A compact disc recording of a related presentation or a DVD full of useful, relevant material might go down very well indeed.
21. Feedback Slips
As your pitch draws to a close, circulate a batch of brief feedback slips for your audience to complete. These will allow your audience to feel involved and appreciated, and help you as a presenter to identify and improve on any shortcomings when it comes to delivering your next pitch.
George A Dixon