5 actionable tips to help you deliver the perfect presentation
Let’s face it, standing up in front of an audience and having everyone’s eyes (and attention, hopefully) on you when holding a presentation can be a very intimidating experience. Whether it’s presenting to strangers or the colleagues you sit next to every day, presenting is pretty tough.
From an audience’s point of view, we’ve all been through our share of cringe-worthy and yawn-inducing presentations, where the presenter has droned on and on about a boring topic, possibly while using a long PowerPoint with a white background and lots of 12px text.
Good meetings and successful presentations are our business expertise here at Neets. Therefore, we want to share some wisdom and actionable tips you can use to deliver the perfect presentation that will engage your audience and communicate your message effectively, without letting nerves get in the way.
Connect with your audience
One of the most important things you should do before you start planning your presentation is to understand your audience. Who will you be speaking to?
In Sales, they say that customer is king. In the world of public speaking, your audience is your king, meaning that your presentation should be all about them. Compare two presentations - In the first, the speaker is talking only about his or her achievements, while in the second presentation, the speaker is sharing knowledge and insights that are relevant and useful to you. Which presentation would you rather listen to?
Having an 'audience-first' mindset is key to creating a presentation that engages your audience, making them interested in what you have to say and remember what you actually said afterwards. More often than not, people remember how you made them feel, not what you said. To gain the attention of your audience, it is vital that you make them feel like it is worth their time to hear what you have got to say. This audience-first mindset needs to be reflected in every part of your presentation, starting from your key talking points to your slides’ design (more on that later).
Start by figuring out who your audience is. What is their level of expertise in the topic? What is their level of interest? You can plan two completely different presentations on the same topic for an audience who knows nothing about the subject and for an audience who in the same field as you. Having this context about your audience will help you narrow the scope of your presentation and help you stick to the most important points.
When preparing for your presentation, think of it as a conversation rather than a presentation. This is a quick and easy way to remember that there are people on the other side, people who set time aside in their busy schedules to listen and learn from you. By breaking up your presentation with some scheduled interaction, where the audience can engage with you and ask questions, you automatically make your presentation a lot more useful and relevant for them.
Know your surroundings
It’s important to know as much as possible about the space you will be in when presenting beforehand. This is especially relevant if you’re holding presentations outside your own office – in a client’s boardroom for example. Here are some questions you should have answers to so that you can feel confident and well-prepared for your presentation.
- How much space will you have to walk around?
- Where is your audience sitting?
- How far away are they?
- Will your presentation be displayed on a big screen behind you, or will it be put up on a TV?
- Will you have a monitor or a laptop you can refer to in the middle of your presentation?
- Will you have a remote control to move through your slides?
Understanding your surroundings will also help you make the best out of it. Standing on one spot for the duration of the presentation might make it difficult to stop fidgeting, and that sends a clear signal to your audience that you’re tense. On the other hand, walking around too much can be very distracting. We’ll be covering how to control your body language to hide your nerves later in this article. If you’re comfortable with walking around, try to plan your movement across the floor strategically, turning your body towards different people in the audience and making eye contact. This will make everyone in the audience feel engaged and involved – like you’re speaking directly to them.
Structure your presentation
It can be quite challenging for a presenter or a speaker to choose the key talking points in a presentation. It's very easy to fall into the trap of trying to cover too much ground in a short amount of time. We've all been through it. The presenter is scrolling through slide after slide of pure text, dedicating 30 seconds to each slide before jumping on to the next one. The audience is initially trying to keep up, eyes narrowed to read the small text on the slide deck. It gets progressively harder to understand what the presenter is talking about. The audience's interest grows fainter and fainter, their eyes start to glaze until they finally zone out and start doodling on the corner of the notepad in front of them.
Rather than trying to cram an encyclopedia in your presentation, start by identifying the core message; the ONE thing you would like your audience to learn or remember from your presentation. Once you have established that, find 3-4 other key points that support your core message, and build your presentation's narrative about that. Go deep into the details around your key points and use examples to make them understandable and memorable. A good thing to keep in mind is that your audience is less interested in research and data than the insights gleaned from that data. By having your key talking points focused on insights, you will encourage questions from audience members who are interested and keen to learn more.
Another element of an excellent presentation is storytelling. The best presentations are the ones that convey key messages in a narrative way, through anecdotes or even simple jokes! It’s part of human nature to tell stories – it’s something we’ve been doing since the beginning of civilization. Storytelling is a fantastic way to connect with your audience, show your personality and allow your passion and enthusiasm for the subject to shine through your presentation.
Design a great slide deck
Some people tend to forget that their slide deck is a supporting tool in their presentation, not the star of the show. The aim of the slide deck is not to be overloaded with text and complicated diagrams and detract attention from the presenter. Remember, the slide deck is just a slide deck; it can't do the talking for you. On the contrary, the slide deck should be a visual aid to help you get your message across more clearly.
The best presentations have a super simple slide deck. Get creative and make slides with only a picture on, or with just one word in the center. A good rule of thumb is to have a maximum of 10 slides on and use a large font size, such as 30pt. This will really force you to keep the messages in your presentation short and concise. Another advantage of having minimalistic slides is that it gives you, the presenter, the flexibility to improvise or adjust your messages depending on how the audience is responding during your presentation.
Manage your nerves
Some people are born to be public speakers. Others need a little bit of polishing to shine, while others need to put in a lot of work to be able to stand up and say something in front of an audience. Nerves or stage fright can be a real inhibition to a successful presentation.
While we can’t promise to cure your stage fright, we would like to suggest some practical things you can do to manage your nerves, so that you can ace your next presentation.
The first thing to remember is that the audience is not your enemy. On the contrary, they are a bit like cheerleaders – they’re on your side and they want you to succeed. If you’ve ever been to a presentation where the speaker messed up and embarrassed himself/herself, you know how awkward and uncomfortable it is to be sitting in the audience. The audience wants to see a presenter who is comfortable and confident, who can handle the pressure, deal with any issues that come up and laugh at their own mistakes.
By being well-prepared for your presentation (and reading our previous tips) you will be well on your way to having a confident presence on stage. In practice, this also means that you will be able to recover from any small mistakes you might make during the presentation, as you know what you have to say. Your audience doesn’t know what you’re planning to say, so they probably won’t even realize you messed up unless you made it obvious. However, it’s important to remember that we’re all human and mistakes happen, so just smile and go with it. Your audience will be cheering for you.
Another thing to keep in mind (this isn’t easy, mind) is to be aware of your body language. A surefire way of spotting a nervous presenter is to look at how they’re standing. A nervous presenter is the one who fidgets, keeps shifting his/her weight from leg to leg, and looks like he doesn’t know what to do with their hands If you’re nervous, try to make a conscious effort to stand in one place and keep your hands on your side, clasped behind your back or in front of you. Oh, and breathe.
Turn your nervousness into excitement. Nervousness is your body trying to tell you that it is ready to perform; it is preparing itself for a huge challenge. When you feel nervous, what you actually feel is the adrenaline pumping around in your body. It is nothing to be afraid of.
On the other hand – your body is trying everything it can to get you into the best possible shape you can before the upcoming event by sharpening your concentration, your focus and your physical performance to handle what lies ahead.
We all confuse this feeling with a feeling of impending doom because it is an uncomfortable spot to be in. But if we can tell ourselves that we are excited for the challenge, instead of nervous about it, and use this state of heightened awareness and performance to our advantage, then we are well on our way to hold a powerhouse of a presentation.
Putting it all together
Hopefully, after reading this article, you are well on your way to becoming an expert in public speaking and presenting! If there's one thing we would like you to remember from this post, it is to make your presentations about your audience, and not about you.
Perfection is a road, not a destination – becoming brilliant at delivering presentations takes a lot of time and work. However, this should not discourage you, as it's easy for an audience to notice when the presenter has put a lot of time into planning and practising. On that note, find yourself a full-length mirror and get rehearsing! Good luck!