Presentation Tips

Presentation Tips

These tips are a "work in progress". I'll make additions and changes as I learn more.

My goal isn't to inspire you to make presentations. That desire must come from you. Yet if you speak, you've got a tremendous opportunity to grow. If you're more creative than your current job allows, here's a chance to develop valuable, portable skills.

Highlights

Your audience won't remember your content but they'll remember how they felt. Squeezing in too much content gets in the way of the lasting impression you have the opportunity to create.

Stereotypes

Your audiences will stereotype you based on your topic and designations. What pops to mind when you picture an accountant? What about a lawyer? What about a motivational speaker? Overcome these stereotypes by confounding expectations. You'll then stand out and be easier to remember.

Your Edge

As a technical speaker, you have a major edge: instant credibility. Your audience knows that becoming a lawyer, doctor or engineer is an accomplishment. Your intelligence is a sign that you know how to learn. Making presentations is a learnable skill and you've proven that you know how to learn.

Your Weakness

Because you're technical, you may have difficulty understanding your audience. Just because they clap when you finish doesn't mean your message got through effectively.

On Stage

If you're jittery or nervous before you take the stage, that's fine. Deep breathing helps. You might go out of the room to walk in the hall. If your throat feels dry, try a lozenge. Sugary candy, coffee and milk-based products may not help you.

When you're presenting, remember that your audience wants you to succeed. They already voted for you by showing up. They won't notice or remember small gaffes. You see a mountain and they probably see nothing. This isn't permission to be sloppy!

Your audience may have people with more experience than you. That's fine. You were selected as the speaker and have control of the room. You're speaking from your unique perspective. No one knows that better than you do.

Bad Examples

There are too many presenters who

  • don't care: they're just putting in time to do their job
  • don't prepare: creating the content may leave too little time to practice
  • don't share: they may consider the content as intellectual property and be reluctant to provide handouts

If you seen them again, they won't be much better than today. By definition, most speakers are close to average and that's not good enough.

Links

Your Content

As a left-brainer, you may find that developing content with a logical flow is easy for you. That gives you an advantage since you have substance. Your disadvantage is that you may be boring.

Links

PowerPoint

PowerPoint is easy to misuse. Screen after screen of bullet points tortures the audience. Tables and charts may help if they're easy to read and interpret. Think of the best presentations you've seen. The slides were probably sparse, striking (e.g., uncommon photos) and memorable. You'll find an excellent collection at TED.comoutlinks.gif.

Widescreen

Did you know that PowerPoint 2007 and later let you create presentations in HD widescreen? I use 16:10 (1280x800). Yes, this works with older projectors that support 1024x768. You'll see black bands above and below. That's exactly what happens when you watch a widescreen movie on an older screen. Since widescreen gives you a smaller working area, you're forced to simplify your content. That's very helpful. Besides, your presentation will look fresher.

Handouts

What handouts are you giving your audience? Would a non-attendee understand them?

Getting Better

There's plenty to learn about speaking.

Feedback

How can you get better if you don't know what to improve? Once you know the areas needing work, finding the resources is easy (start online).

Your colleagues may not be the right source. Critiquing takes effort. It's much easier to say "nice job". Sometimes colleagues resent your development because you may make them look less good by comparison. Sometimes bosses are harsh for no apparent reason. Your staff may be reluctant to make suggestions.

Do you know a speaker you'd like to emulate? Tell them. They may be willing to help you.

If you're self-conscious, you may be reluctant to move outside your zone of comfort. Can you talk to nonwork audiences where no one you know sees you?

Listen to all feedback but don't weigh all suggestions equally. There's no "right" way to make a presentation.

NOTE: If you have difficulty accepting critiques, there's little point asking others. You're wasting their time and yours.

Feedback Form

Feedback helps you improve. You want anonymous feedback from as many people as possible. Use a form. You'll probably want to get their overall impressions (e.g., scale of 1-5), what they liked (written) and what could be done better (written). There's no ideal form. You can search for one online or collect samples from presentations you attend. If you aren't getting many responses

  • your form may be too long
  • your presentation may not be very good (it's easier to say nothing than to give true feedback)
  • you didn't give enough value to spur audience feel obligated to help you (invoke reciprocityoutlinks.gif, the #1 form of universal influence)
  • you spoke too long and didn't leave time for them respond

Experiment until you get better results.

Get Training

For immediate free help with the issue that concerns you at this moment, search online. Maybe that's how you found this page?

To improve, instruction helps:

  • join a noncorporate Toastmasters group (here's why I finally didoutlinks.gif)
  • take an evening course (a full semester, not a three day crash seminar)
  • tailor your talks to you with personal stories that no one else can tell

PS Network

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