Struggling to prepare for an upcoming presentation? Use these ten top tips to wow your audience and make yours a pitch that they’ll never forget…
1. Open Effectively
Never underestimate the importance of a flying start. Your introduction will be your best opportunity to convince the audience that this will be a presentation they’ll not want to miss. So, ask yourself what kind of introduction would capture your attention if you were in the audience’s shoes.
A rhetorical question? A personal or company anecdote? A brief and humorous outline of the show to come?
Whatever you choose, make sure it’s not an apology – this will serve only to weaken your influence as a host and lead speaker.
2. Counter the Fear
Some of the greatest speakers in history have suffered from stage fright at one point or another; presentation anxiety really is just an unfortunate fact of life. But while you’re not likely to be chastised for your nerves, the calmer you appear throughout your presentation, the more lucid and convincing you’ll be.
So breathe deep, think positive and remember: your audience wants you to succeed. If at all possible, you’ll also want to rehearse your presentation in real-time just before your audience arrives. This will help you to iron out any last-minute niggles, and bolt those mischievous nerve critters back in their closet.
3. Come Prepared
You never know when your computer, projector or microphone will decide to seize up, so it’s best to have a back-up plan. Since it isn’t exactly practical to haul a second set of apparatus to every presentation you give, bring along a batch of clear, concise notes and a series of handouts so that the show can go on if the techno-gremlins resolve to ruin your day.
Or, if you really want to play Bond, copy your presentation to your Smartphone and use a compatible mini-projector to show your audience that you’re determined your presentation be seen as you intended- come hell or high water.
4. Master Your Environment
Make sure you’re familiar with the projection room – its size, shape and illumination. Few things are more infuriating than being forced to crook one’s neck throughout a presentation because of poor positioning or lighting, so place your audience in such a way that they’re able to easily see you and the projection screen beside you.
Depending on the time of day, you should also prevent any unwanted sunshine from weakening your projection by completely sealing off the windows; curtains will serve better than blinds for this purpose.
And unless you’ll be wearing a microphone on the big day, you’d do well to ensure that you’ll be audible to every member of the audience before you start. Place a radio in the general area you’ll be standing, and set it to the approximate volume at which you expect to speak.
Then spend some time roving the floorspace to gauge the quality of sound in every nook and cranny. Some spaces carry sound better than others, so if you find that there’s an uncomfortable echo in certain sections of the room, you’ll want to adjust the seating arrangements accordingly.
5. Steer Clear of Cliché Veneer
Nothing serves to sap enthusiasm from an eager young audience quite like a torrent of mind-numbingly overused presentation clichés.
Clipart, stock photos and worn-out phrases (“Let’s give it 110%!”) will only serve to set you up as another uninspired, unoriginal speaker with little new to say.
So, remember that the brain pays attention to the unexpected, and use unique and surprising methods to captivate your listeners.
If nothing else, they’ll appreciate your originality.
For our Top Ten list of clichés to avoid, please click here.
6. Record Yourself
In this day and age, it’s so cheap and easy to video yourself presenting that there’s really no excuse not to. And just consider the advantages!
First and foremost, you’ll be able to use the recording for constructive self-analysis. By scrutinising your own body language, speaking tone and volume, you can address any of your weaker points and counteract them next time round. If you also record your audience during the presentation, you can judge their interest levels throughout. If there appears to be a lot of uncomfortable shifting and watch-checking at a certain point, it’s safe to say that the subject matter or execution of that section was far from thrilling.
And why not post your videos online for the world to see? There really is no better way to spread your message, and the feedback comments provided by your viewers will prove absolutely invaluable.
7. Pick a Theme Song
No, this isn’t a joke.
If you’ve done your homework, you will have acquired, in advance, a good understanding of the general personalities you’ll be presenting to. By playing a song you’re sure they’ll approve of while they make themselves comfortable in the projection room, you’ll create an immediate rapport with your audience, and set the tone for the presentation to come.
You’d do well to choose your theme song carefully, though; the last thing you want to do is offend somebody from the offset. Musical themes to avoid include death, failure, violence and chauvinism.
8. Visual Aids
One of the best ways to capture your listeners’ interest is through the use of original, thought-invoking visual aids. Depending on your audience, humour here can prove useful. But effective humour requires supreme self-confidence; if you’re even slightly unsure of yourself, it’s safer to go with intelligent, self-explanatory illustrations. If you wish to symbolise your company’s unwavering performance in a difficult economic climate, for example, try using a journey-bound vehicle as a symbol of the corporation. A vessel at sea, for instance, could prove most emotive; the mast, sail, starboard and stern could represent your corporation’s separate departments, and the flailing waves could signify the merciless economy itself.
Do remember, though, that each time you change slides, you should allow yourself to remain silent for a few seconds. Your audience’s eyes will always dominate their ears, so the brief quiet will enable them to soak up the contents of your slide before you proceed with your oral elaboration.
9. Pace Yourself
This is one to pay particular attention to if you’re prone to stage-fright.
Keep a glass of water at hand (it’ll act as your brake pads when you go into vocal overdrive) and speak slowly and clearly, giving your body time to breathe and relax.
Always allow your audience to react to your comments before moving on, and break the mould by answering your viewers’ relevant questions as they come in rather than deferring them to the end of the session. Niggling thoughts wander, and unanswered questions often plague viewers throughout the remainder of the presentation, damaging their concentration and, by proxy, the rest of their experience. Answering questions on the spot will prove just how professional and knowledgeable you really are.
10. It Ain’t Over Till the Mike Is Off
So, the last slide’s gone, the presentation’s done, and you’ve answered your audience’s questions to their full satisfaction. But don’t allow yourself that sigh of relief just yet.
Distribute an informative handout among your listeners – a physical memento of your presentation, including all of the crucial ideas you’ve shared and, if appropriate, your contact details. You’d be well-advised, also, to make sure that the handout is printed on good-quality card or laminated parchment rather than regular paper that is likely to be torn or lost within the hour. And, whatever you do, don’t forget to turn off your microphone before you leave the stage. Gordon Brown’s pre-election gaffe, anyone?