Make yourself the focus of your presentations
Listening to a good business presentation should be both enjoyable and enlightening. But all too often we end up having to endure heavy decks of PowerPoint slides that would have been better simply sent to us as a document to read.
Some of the best presenters I have seen are those who use no slides at all. Just look at Ted for some really good examples. And if they do use slides, then they use them to support what they are saying, not to say it for them. They are the presenters who make themselves the focus of their presentation and not their slides.
So what are some of the things you can do to improve your presentations? The following are just a short selection of the many tips and tricks I cover during the presentation skills training that I offer.
Structure it: Always put content before design. Before you even touch PowerPoint, take the time to sketch out a rough outline. It does not have to be elaborate and you can even do it on the back of an envelope or paper napkin. Personally I use some mind mapping software, but the most important thing is to ensure you have a clear path.
Keep the structure simple: Have a strong and impactful beginning that captures the attention of the audience and ensures they know exactly why they should keep listening to you; have a middle that provides the details; and have an ending that summarises what you have said. In other words, tell them what you are going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you have told them.
Use only three key messages: If you use more than three of them your audience is likely to still only remember three – and they may not be the three that you consider the most important.
Be selective: Try to split the information you are proposing to include into three distinct types: Necessary information, Interesting information, and information that would be nice to know. As you develop your presentation use first only the necessary information. If you still have some time then you can include some of the interesting information and – very sparingly – perhaps some of the “nice to know.”
Design your slides to illustrate what you are saying: Your slides should support what you are saying, not provide text that the audience reads instead of listening to you. Use big, high-quality pictures which are not only memorable, they are processed by our brains 60,000 times faster than text.
Don’t be tempted to use your presentation as a handout document: A handout should be an entirely separate document which presents the information in greater detail than it should appear on your slides. You may think you don’t have the time to prepare two different things but you are doing yourself no favours by compromising the most important part, the presentation itself. Being asked to give a presentation in front of an audience of whatever size should be seen as a huge professional opportunity for you that can have a significant effect on how others regard you. Don’t waste it.
Remember to the six-by-six rule: If you use text then use headline-style points with only six bullet points per slide and six words per bullet point.
Try telling a story: We all grew up loving to listen to stories and so we are tuned to pay attention to them. Telling a story is a far more effective and memorable way of communicating than simply presenting lists of facts.
Stick to your time: If you are given half an hour in which to make your presentation, stick to that time – or even try to make it shorter. I have never heard anyone complain about a presentation that lasted for less time than anticipated.
Don’t waste your last words: The end of your presentation needs to be as impactful as the beginning so leave your audience with thoughts or actions to remember. One very effective method is to not take answers at the very end, but just before the end: “Before I conclude, does anyone have any questions?” This allows you to have the last word as well as the opportunity to re-emphasise some of your answers to the questions.