If you are one of those people who find making a presentation difficult, this article will help you put an oomph to your presentation.
Getting ready for your presentation
One of the keys is being prepared. Know your objective. If you are unsure, ask the person who requested the presentation. What do you hope to achieve with this presentation? Provide information, sell an idea. How much time do you have for your presentation? Other things to consider – resources and visual aids that are available to you. Do you need to book a room? What other arrangements do you need to make?
Get as much information about your audience. Their knowledge of the topic. What are their objectives? Which languages they are comfortable with? Consider the possibility of breaking the presentation into two sessions if there is a mixture in the knowledge levels. Prepare for any objections your audience may have.
Preparing your presentation
As a rule of thumb, preparation takes up to seven times longer than the delivery. Remember to include factors such as your workloads, interruption from colleagues into your preparation time. Try to make use of the visual aids available.
Brainstorm the topic. Gather all aspects of the subject matter, breaking up the topics into 3 areas:
Need to know
Nice to know
Out of topic
Compile the ‘need to know’ topics in a logical order and prepare a step by step flow to the topics. If you lack sufficient knowledge on the subject matter, carry out your research using resources such as the library, the internet. Don’t be proud, consult your colleagues or experts in your organization.
Structuring your presentation
The common structure of most presentations has:
Questions and Answers
The introduction should covers:
the subject matter
topics you will be covering
why the audience are there
the benefits they will get
how long the presentation will last
when questions can be asked
This is an important time to show enthusiasm and energy for your subject matter. First impression counts in a presentation.
The content, as mentioned earlier, should be logical and laid out in a step by step manner. Break up your presentation into sub-sections. Summarize each sub-section before moving on to the next sub-section. Emphasize during these summaries, the main points to reinforce learning. If you allow the audience to ask questions at the end of each sub-section, mention this at the beginning of the introduction.
The conclusion is where you refer back to the aim of the presentation and review the objectives that have been achieved. Highlight the key points of the presentation and emphasize the benefits to the audience. Remember to KISS the conclusion (Keep It Short and Simple).
The questions and answers session is the most difficult to prepare for. During your brainstorming, consider the objections your audience mat have and address these in the body of your presentation. Ask your colleagues to come up with questions, the more difficult the better.
Run and re-run your presentation in your mind but bear in mind that you think much faster than you speak. Rehearse aloud. Speak it out. By doing this, it gives you the opportunity to find the words you want to use. Time your presentation. If possible, record your presentation. This gives you the opportunity for you to check your own presentation. Check your voice, tone, volume, pace, body language and gestures. Do rehearsals (or dry runs) with your colleagues. Get feedback and amend your presentation as necessary. If possible, a full dress rehearsal in the venue where your presentation will take place.
Your delivery should be free flowing and you should sound natural. This means having good rehearsal. Should you have presentation notes? Depends. Notes can be distracting. Try to keep eye contact with your audience. If you really need presentation notes, prepare index cards. Write in large print, use short bullet points. Number the cards, bound the cards loosely. Place the cards on your presentation table. Remember, minimize your reference to these cards. Alternatively, use your visual aids as a prompt. Expand the key points highlighted in the visual aids.
Use visual aids to enhance and make your presentation interesting. But remember, YOU are the main visual aid, the other visual aids should not distract attention from you. Visual aids can be projectors (lcd, slide, overhead), flipcharts, whiteboards, videos. How often do you use visual aids? As a rule of thumb, about every ten minutes. Try to vary the visual aids. Visual aids need to be clear and concise.
The choice of visual aids is dependent on:
size of audience
size of the room
the facilities available
As a guide, flipchart or whiteboard may be used for small audience. Projectors are suitable for complex materials and graphs. Provide handouts if visual aids are not available and work through the handouts.
To have handouts or not. Handouts can be valuable referral documents for your audience. If you intend for your audience to work through the handouts, distribute them before your presentation. If not, distribute them at the end of your presentation. The handouts should cover the topics in your presentation. Do let your audience know that there are handouts at the end of your presentation. To avoid having the handouts distract your audience, follow these rules:
handout the document
make sure everyone has a copy
highlight to your audience where you want them to focus
tell your audience to put the document away once you are finished with it.
Day of reckoning
On the day of your presentation, check and make sure all that you require is in the room. What to check for? Visual aids, equipment, handouts, notes, extension cords. Ensure all the equipment are functioning. Give yourself ample time to setup your computer, check the connectivity. Check that the video can be seen and the audio can be heard from every seat. Make sure your notes and overheads are in order.
If you feel your nerves raise before your presentation, do some stretching exercises. During your presentation, ensure that you minimize nervous reactions from the perspective of your audience. If your hands tend to shake, avoid using props. If your knees wobble, stand behind the podium or table. You could build movement into your presentation like walking to your visual aids, remember to come to a complete stop before addressing your audience.
What should I wear? The audience and the situation will dictate your dress code. It is important to respect your audience but at the same time, you must be comfortable in what you wear.
Delivering your presentation
Your presentation starts when your audience begins to come into the room. Mingle with your audience, meet and greet them as they arrive. Remember your eye contact and gestures, first impression counts.
Have your audience seated and settled. Remember to assert yourself as the presenter. Stand where all the audience can see you. Make eye contact with your audience, don’t forget those at the back of the room or at the corners of the room. It is quite normal for you to seek out a friendly face in the audience but it is important to have eye contact around the room. If someone asks a question, have eye contact with the person. But break the eye contact when you answer the question, respond to all in the room.
Remember your posture, stand comfortably. Be confident. Take a deep breath. Use a lower key if you feel nervous, your voice tends to pitch when nerves raise. Slow down your pace if you feel nervous. Have a cup of water nearby in case you have a fit of coughing or if your mouth feels dry. Use your body language as a natural means of communication. If you are illustrating a point, use your hands. From time to time, try moving from your current position. Avoid hand gestures using a pen, it can be irritating to some people.
What’s up next? Oops, I forgot what to say next. But who knows? Only you know what you intend to say. If you have your prompt cards, refer to them, return the cards to their place and continue your address to your audience. It will look like a natural pause to your audience.
Observe the body language of your audience. If you notice some yawns or wandering eyes, increase the energy level of your presentation. It is important that you maintain enthusiasm and energy in your body language and voice.
Remember Murphy’s Law – If anything will go wrong, it will go wrong. The most important to remember is DON’T PANIC. If a projector breaks down, check if there is a spare bulb or a spare projector. If you are using projectors, have a hard copy of your presentation available. You can move to a whiteboard or flipchart and continue your presentation.
Always repeat the key points of the presentation to reinforce learning. Try to vary the format when you emphasize the key points.
Keep to your time schedule. If you have a question and answer session at the end, let your audience know. Don’t get sidetrack by questions from the audience during your presentation.
Whether it is a room or a hall, it is important that all of your audience can hear what is being said. Get a colleague to stand at the back of the room and let you know if he or she can’t see or hear you clearly. You could invite your audience at the back to respond by raising their hand if they cannot hear.
Controlling a question and answer session
At the beginning of the question and answer session, let your audience know the duration of the session. Give your audience time to be involved in the session. After a pause, if no questions are forthcoming, start with a question you are frequently asked to get the ball rolling. This may give your audience impetus and time to generate related questions.
When asked a question, repeat it in your own words. This is to ensure that you understand the question and to let the audience hear the question asked. Break eye contact with person asking the question and respond to all your audience. If you are asked a hostile question, repeating it in your own words, will take the sting out. After you have answered the question, do not return eye contact to the questioner.
Occasionally an individual may demand your attention or incessantly raise questions, you can suggest the discussion to be continued at the end of the session. At all times, remain courteous and invite other questions from the floor.
During the session, it is easy to go off the point. To avoid this, consider the questions carefully. If you think the response would take you outside the scope of your presentation, let your audience know. Again, you could address the question at the end of the session or to send it to all the audience at a later stage.
If you do not know the the answer, let your audience know it. You could open the question to your audience for their answer. If you promise to your audience to send the correct answer, fulfill the promise or you risk damaging your credibility.
Closing your presentation
When the questions coming from the floor have stopped or you have run out of time and have answered the final question, this marks the end of the question and answer session. Always return to presenter mode and summarize the objectives and expectations for your audience and thank them for their time. Be the last to leave the room.
Always evaluate your presentation. This is the best time and opportunity for you to improve and develop your skills. You could have an audience assessment form to be filled at the end of your presentation or at a later stage (preferably within a week of the presentation). You could also do a self assessment (subjective) using a checklist. If the objective of the presentation is to lead to a change in behaviour, you could measure your presentation using direct or indirect observation of such behaviour.
The key is to accept criticism and to recognize our weaknesses. But the key areas of any feedback, whether positive or negative, is that the feedback need to be specific and if possible, giving examples of what they mean. Identify the weakness so that it can be eliminated. Remember it is your willingness to change.
Be well prepared and well rehearsed. Be open and honest. Remember your audience is human, what they want is to enjoy and benefit from your presentation. Keep them in mind as you prepare and deliver your presentation. Success to your next presentation!
David B.W. Lee is a Sage Accpac ERP consultant since 2000. He was formerly a senior consultant with Malaysia’s Top Premier Reseller, Careware Systems Sdn Bhd.
Over the past years, he has conducted seminars, workshops, training classes and software demonstrations. He have also written technical and non-technical articles, documentations and tutorials as a freelancer. Among his many years of consulting experience, involves setting up and designing websites and providing content management.