The goal of every presentation is to successfully influence how listeners will think or act. That said, few presentations make the cut. Although many treat presentations rather casually, every one counts and each one is equally important.
And here’s why: we are our presentations. We’re the one on stage, and we’re judged by our listeners not only on what we say, but on the effectiveness of the performance.
Every presentation tells a story–our story. Presentation skills influence the destiny of a business career, and the advantage goes to the top presenters.
Whether you’re speaking one-on-one or to hundreds, it’s still a presentation. Whether it’s long or short, it’s still a presentation. Whether it’s a sales speech, management briefing or staff meeting, it’s the same situation, and the presenter is on the line.
Here are some ways to make every presentation a success:
1. Start with asking, “What do I want someone to say, do or think after hearing my presentation?” If you don’t have a clear picture of how you want listeners to respond, they will be confused and dissatisfied. A presentation gets a focus and comes under your control when you know exactly how you want it to be perceived. Write down your answer, and make it specific, so it becomes your built-in GPS as you develop your presentation. If you skip this step, expect a low grade from your audience.
2. Think about some presentations you’ve heard lately at work or anywhere else. What was good, and what didn’t you like? Again, write down your answers, and apply them to the preparation of your presentation:
• What didn’t you like?
__ Went too fast or too slow
__ Boring, no excitement
__ Too long
__ Hard to follow
__ Too much information
__ Not enough information
__ Didn’t learn anything
__ Heard it before
__ Not prepared
__ Sounded like a lecture
__ Didn’t involve listeners
__ Confusing, couldn’t follow
__ Not organized
__ Didn’t understand the listeners
__ Talked down to us
__ Poor use of media aids
• What did you like?
__ Good stories
__ Involved listeners
__ Well organized
__ Easy to follow
__ Right length
__ Good pace
__ Learned something new
__ Understood the listeners
__ Helpful information
__ Well prepared
__ Wanted to hear more
__ Good use of media aids
3. A presentation is always a “joint venture” between the presenter and the listeners. It belongs as much to them as it does to you. This is why pretending they’re looking over your shoulder as you’re preparing is a good way to think about it. However, it also makes it hard work. How so? Because a presentation is always a compromise between what you want to say and what the audience wants to hear.
Having a thorough understanding of the audience (who they are, what they’re thinking, what they’re looking for, the problems they face and so forth) is essential. You’re influencing how they will think and act, so they’ll want to do business with you.
4. Connect with your listeners through stories. The good news is that listeners want to believe in you as someone who cares about what they care about.
The way to do it is with the right stories. So, keep the focus on your listeners. Nix the stories about yourself, your company, your job, your dog, your significant other, or your vacation unless they’re a good fit for your audience. Keep in mind that your presentation is about them, not you. Here’s an example of a story that works:
The page-one story in The Boston Globe tells of an unemployed 58-year-old man who spent two years job-hunting. Trying for a middle-management job in the computer industry, he sent out hundreds of resumes without a nibble. He thought he might never work again.
Yet, buried in the story was a telling comment. Years earlier, he was known as “Mr. Fixit.” It was something he loved doing, but he was so fixated on getting a job that he was blind to the one staring him in the face. There are times when we’re so stuck on going in one direction that we miss the opportunities right in front of us…..
Always keep your “antennae” up. The best stories come from everyday experiences like news articles, biographies, and even ads.
By using stories that connect with your listeners, something important happens to a presentation. Slides, a common tool that’s often used as a crutch, become far less important. If you use them as a roadmap to let the participants know where you’re going, use them sparingly–perhaps one or two on a screen with a graphic or a short video. The objective is to keep the focus on the audience, not the visual aids.
5. Write them out word-for-word. Even the most experienced presenters make the deadly mistake of cutting corners on preparation.
If you don’t write it out, you can count on forgetting something, messing up a major point or saying something you’ll regret.
6. Turn on your presentation GPS. From the get-go, you have no more than 30seconds to grab attention. One presenter looked at an audience of 75 life insurance agents and said, “Only three of you are going to get rich. How do I know? Only three of you will do what it takes to get there.”
What follows are the three steps a life insurance agent must take to reach success– and this is where stories, supported by facts, can help engage listeners.
Then, wrap it up. Summarize what you want the listeners to remember about your presentation and close with a challenge.
By the way, never end with a question or a quotation. It may be the easy way out, but it doesn’t work. Always end with your own words.
7. Get some coaching. This seems to be the universal solution today, and it can be a big help to presenters. Don’t fret because you can’t hire Scott Pelley or Diane Sawyer (although just watching them in action is good education).
Your best bet may be sitting in the next cubical. A. Friends and significant others make great coaches, because they can recognize how much you want to succeed.
Can’t find a live coach? Get a digital one. Prop up your smartphone, tablet or laptop and record your presentation in three-minute segments (yes, watching may be a bit overwhelming at first). Play them back, and you’ll be amazed at the improvement. You’ll hear and see where you will want to make edits to the text. You may be ready for YouTube!
Making great presentations is an immense challenge. They’re never spontaneous, never left to the last minute, and never read from PowerPoint screens. They’re always written, always edited and always rehearsed. Those who do it best are those who recognize that giving a presentation isn’t what they do; it’s who they are.