Sooner or later, you’ll have to give a presentation. Whatever its context, that presentation will aim to persuade its hearer(s) to the course of action you’d like them to take.
Lots of people make lots of presentations but this only seems to provide more scope for presenters to fail in their aim – for personal and/or technological reasons. So, here are some thoughts on how to give the perfect presentation.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression – and first impressions are vital. So, to help you give the ‘PERFECT’ presentation – to audiences varying in size from one to millions – you’ll need:
Personal impact. You have no more than 30 seconds to make an impression. Your audience will pick up any (non-verbal) sign of nervousness or uncertainty. So, know exactly how you’re going to start your presentation so that it’s powerful, engaging and harnesses the power of positive body language.
Emotional connection. If you’re not passionate about what you’re talking about, how can you expect anyone else to be? Engaging with people on an ‘emotional’ level ensures greater ‘buy-in’ for your ideas. When you tell personal stories, use metaphors and let people into your life experiences, they’ll be more prepared to trust and agree with you.
Right to talk. What right do you have to talk about what you’re talking about? What’s your history? What relevant experiences/ successes have you had?
F Engaging and enrolling your audience with power and impact is only part of the story. Your presentation must have facts, goals and detail. Don’t talk in the abstract. Make what you say relevant to your hearers.
E We live in a soundbite society. In today’s technological world, our senses are being constantly assailed by sounds and images. Identify the key elements of your presentation and translate them into succinct, influential language.
C Don’t make claims, use information or quote sources that you can’t substantiate. If you’re going to use facts, ensure you know who said it, when they said it and in what context it was said.
The company. Having established your ‘right to talk’, you must also establish your organisation’s credentials.
Bear in mind, too, that using technology has greater potential to detract from, than enhance, your presentation.
The Perfect Corporate Presentation
Talking about presentations recently to FT|IE Corporate Learning Alliance – a joint venture of the Financial Times and IE Business School, formed in 2015 in response to growing calls for more flexible, practical, relevant and timely corporate learning – Ian Sanders believes that, “Since slide-making software hit desktops in the 1990s, executives have struggled against sleep-inducing presentations with their garish colours, misaligned text, illegible text pasted over images, and endless bullet points on a single slide.”
Thankfully, Sanders – a creative consultant, storyteller, and author of four books on work and business – believes that even the dullest presentations can be transformed if presenters follow five principles:
Get your audience working with you. Peter Welch, director of the European Court of Auditors in Luxembourg, starts his presentations with a puzzle. He says, “When the audience sees the graphic, it grabs their attention. It’s a better opening than a slide entitled ‘budgetary frameworks and procurement decisions’ that might send everyone to sleep. If you get the timing right, the audience solves the puzzle just as you get there.” Involving the audience at the outset encourages them to anticipate more challenges later on.
Don’t rely on software. PowerPoint and Keynote may be easy to use, but their default settings won’t inspire an audience. See the slides’ layout or design from your audience’s perspective – not your own. So, keep text on each slide to a minimum. Don’t always use the default format of a heading and round bullet points. Build your presentation around powerful images, using abstract photographs to illustrate concepts. If you’re imparting complex information, include it in a separate handout that the audience can digest later. The fewer the slides, the clearer the message. Caroline Goyder, author of ‘Gravitas: Communicate with Confidence, Influence and Authority’, says, “The cardinal sin is to think slides are your memory prompt. They’re there to illuminate ideas for the audience. Keep them as simple as possible.”
Take your audience on a journey. Nancy Duarte says that a presentation should take the audience on a journey by creating dramatic tension between the status quo and a new vision. In her book ‘Resonate’ Duarte examines former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ presentation at the 2007 iPhone launch. Jobs built anticipation by asking his audience to think about three revolutionary products: the iPod, the phone, and a breakthrough internet device. He asked them to imagine how things might be if these weren’t three separate products, but one. Then he revealed the new iPhone. Duarte writes: “Jobs ends his presentation having enthusiastically moved his audience from what is to what could be.” That inspired a standing ovation.
Respond to the situation. You don’t always present in isolation. When Tanya Boardman, co-founder of Catena Space, a UK technology, and space-sector consultancy, was given just five minutes at the end of the second day of the UK Space Conference, she decided “to tell a lively story, with a touch of humour to wake people and take a step away from screens full of data”. It can be useful to know not only what your competition will say but also how they’ll present.
Prepare thoroughly. This applies to any speech. Caroline Goyder advises executives to start with a blank sheet of paper and coloured pens. She says, “Don’t plan on PowerPoint. Take the time to work out your angle on the information and find a compelling frame around it.” Once you have a structure, make time to rehearse. Practise at home, and/or ask a team member to watch you rehearse your presentation at the office.