5 Tips to Achieve Great Results from Your Presentations
If delivering a good presentation could mean the difference between you getting a new job, winning some work, influencing others to make a change or not, then take time to polish your presentation skills because a few basic skills and techniques can make all the difference between winning and losing.
Just recently I sat through a presentation from a PhD qualified in engineering and he obviously knew his topic extremely well. I couldn’t help feeling amazed, however, that someone with such high academic qualifications had failed to exercise some of the really basic methods for getting his point across effectively in presentations – I thought we had all learnt from John Cleese in his training video about presentations! After counting that his first slide had well over 100 words on it and listening in horror as he proceeded to read out the text word for word I realised that this was obviously not the case and thought it was time to share some of my experiences about how to get your message across more effectively.
I’ve broken down my recommendations into five different areas; the list is not exhaustive but if you practice the following points I am convinced your presentations will generally get results.
- What does the audience want to know, do you know who you’re speaking to and have they already experience of the subject matter you’re about to talk about? A little time to make some introductions and understand what they want in the presentation can help to fine-tune how you deliver it and get them on board. Better still, if you can share a copy of the presentation and some time with each of the group members beforehand then when you come to deliver the group presentation it will be a mere formality.
The visual aids
This should be a simple one but at the same time so easy to get wrong and so often observed being done badly.
- First of all, a picture tells 1000 words so why use words on your slides? No more words on a slide than you can fit on the front of a T-shirt goes the old cliché. In other words, keep the text size big.
- Do you need to restrict yourself to only using Microsoft PowerPoint or could you break up the delivery by using some physical visual aids or even a flip chart?
- Always thank the audience for coming to listen to you. Just shows a bit of a courtesy that you appreciate them and maybe start you off on the right foot.
- Keep the energy levels up and don’t read out what’s written on the slide. If the audience can’t read for themselves then they probably wouldn’t be in the room.
- Remember not to dip your voice as you move down towards the end of the slide. Is the last point not just as important as the first point?
- Pause after each key point for maximum effect. Someone once told me that after making each point you want to pause, just long enough, to say to the audience, in your head, “do you get it?”
- Often a mistake made during a presentation can throw the presenter of the track, make them nervous and have a negative impact on how the presentation comes across. Top tip is to continue if you have made a mistake and try and make it look as if it was deliberate. Don’t cover up but make it part of the presentation and keep going. A live band doesn’t stop the music if it plays one wrong note; it continues right to the end song.
- Engage with the audience. Don’t talk at them for 20 minutes and then expect them to come bouncing back with lots of questions; you need to engage them during the presentation as well as just at the end in that little bit of time you’ve allocated for questions.
- Observe body language; folded arms, back of the neck being rubbed, attention wandering to mobile phones, light-bulb moments, smiling, acknowledgement in the faces of the audience. All of these little signs within the members of the group you are presenting to can give you very valuable feedback as to whether you are pitching your presentation correctly or whether you are losing them. Learn some basic body language science before you deliver your most important presentation.
- Anticipate the types of questions you will be asked. This will give you time to think about an appropriate answer and how to get that across. In my experience, the person who asked the question feels better and more significant if you respond by saying thanks, that’s a good question even though you might be thinking in your head “what a dumb-wit asking such a simple question”
- Be ready for that question someone will ask you a question that you don’t know the answer for. I can’t put an exact figure on it but I’m sure it is towards 90% of the time the answer is within the room and the skill is in letting the other members of the group answer the question whilst maintaining the impression that you knew the answer all along. This is called bouncing and reflecting. So whilst you are thinking “help! I don’t know the answer” bounce the question back to the group and get them to discuss the question while you are desperately trying to think of an appropriate answer. Usually, in that small period of time, someone comes up with a reasonable answer and solves your problem.
Getting the message across
Possibly the most important point but, without the other points above, this will get lost.
- You should be perfectly clear, as each slide appears, about the purpose of the slide and why it is included. In this way, you will deliver a much more confident and convincing presentation.
- “Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and tell them what you told them.” In other words, repeating the key message three times means it is far more likely to stick in the minds of the audience.
- Finally, have the last word. In other words, it is worth considering having a summary slide after the “any questions” slide so that, if the questions go off track, you have one last opportunity to bring the audience back on track with a summary of the key points and message.