The technology will help, but you need some idea about addressing the audience when finally you have to get up and talk to the assembled masses.
Some people appear to have a natural talent for speaking in public. It is as if they have stood up in front of groups of people and talked confidently and in a relaxed, authoritative style all their lives. Yet, for other people, the prospect of delivering a presentation brings strong feelings of anxiety and apprehension.
Delivering a presentation is, however, as much a skill as other methods of communication, such as letter writing or interviewing. By applying a few basic techniques, all of us can enhance the effectiveness of our presentations.
One of the obstacles to delivering an effective presentation is lack of confidence. This leads to nervousness and anxiety, and hence to a stilted and awkward performance with the individual convinced that he or she is "no good at presentations" and avoids doing them. When next forced into making a presentation, the situation is even worse because there has been no opportunity to practise and improve presentation techniques, and the individual "knows" that it will go badly. It is, therefore, necessary to break this cycle to increase confidence.
Lack of confidence is caused by fear of:
- Forgetting what you intended to say.
- Making yourself look foolish.
- Audience reaction.
- Lack of experience.
Confidence can be increased by:
- Preparing thoroughly so that you know that you won't forget what you were going to say.
- Preparing and rehearsing so that you know that the presentation will go well and that you will not look foolish.
- Assessing the needs of the audience and anticipating their reactions.
- Confident body language.
So there you have it. Confidence can be improved by hard work (preparation) and by putting yourself through the process of addressing groups either at work, or on a training course, or by joining organisations such as the Junior Chamber of Commerce which afford the opportunity to practice these skills. It is also closely linked to body language.
Preparing and Planning
There are four questions to be answered before you can begin to prepare and plan a presentation.
- Why are you saying it? - The purpose
- To whom are you saying it? - The audience
- What are you going to say? - The content
- How are you going to say it? - The form
There are three categories that define the main purpose of most presentations:
- To communicate information. - To tell. To impart factual knowledge to a group.
- To make a proposition. - To sell. To persuade the audience to support an idea or plan.
- To inspire and motivate. - To impel. To generate enthusiasm and develop positive attitudes.
Each of these categories makes different demands on the presenter and is intended to provoke a different response from the audience. Sometimes a presenter will have two or three purposes interwoven in one session. For example, a Sales Director might start off by giving an overview of sales performance, propose a new strategy, and then seek to inspire and motivate the audience to implement it.
In a training situation, the presentation is usually designed to communicate information, but the development of attitudes and motivation is often an integral part of its purposes as well.
You will need to discover as much as you can about the audience before you start to prepare.
Firstly, the size of the audience will influence the degree of formality and audience involvement you might expect. The larger the audience, the more formal you will be and the less participation you can expect. The appropriateness of the venue and visual aids to be used will also be affected. Next, consider how much they know and understand about the subject. You will loose their attention if you pitch the presentation above or below their heads. If, as is often the case, you have a mixed level audience, go for the middle ground. Another possibility is to circulate back-ground information in advance so that the less well-informed can read up before the presentation. Do not, however, assume that of your audience will have read it.
Finally establish the characteristics of the audience with regard to their position in the organisation - their seniority, their special interests, and so on. The audience may contain customers, your subordinates, your superiors, young trainees, or very experienced employees. They may be very interested, cynical, open-minded, or prejudiced. You win support by letting them know, that you are aware of who they are and the problems they face.
Planning is essential if your presentation is to achieve its objectives in the time available. The following guidelines may help y to get started:
- Write a brief statement summarising the objectives of your presentation, e.g.: "By the end of the session, members of the audience will be able to recognise the types of accidents that can happen in the workplace and the procedures for dealing with them.
- List all the points you intend to cover e.g.:
At this stage, it is often best to list all the points as they occur to you rather than trying to structure the material as you are going along.
- Fire hazards
- Toxic fumes
- Skin contact
- Eye splashes
- Colour of containers
- Emergency procedures
- Spillages, etc.
- Identity priority points and highlight these.
- Identify non-essential points. Do they need to be included at all, or is it best to hold them in reserve in case questions arise about that aspect? Can minor points be grouped into a single heading?
- How much time do you need? How much time do you have? In an ideal world, you decide how much time you need to meet your objectives. In practice, you may be allocated a time slot. Allot a time estimate to each of your main points and include time for your introduction and summing-up. If you are short of time, remove the non-essential points from your presentation.
- Decide on a sequence that is logical in terms of your objectives. There will probably be interconnecting points, but as you think about them, you will find that some things cannot be explained until other things have. For example, you cannot sensibly explain the work of an insurance broker before you have explained the work of insurance companies - even though an insurance broker is the first point of contact to a customer. In general, start with the simple and work through to the more complex.
- Collect information and material to support the points you will be making. Facts have more impact than opinions. E.g.
"I think our customer reception area is not as good as it could be."
"Of 100 customers asked, 65% thought that our reception area was below the expected standard."
However, do not overburden your audience with facts. KISS is a well-known acronym for making effective presentations.
Keep It Short and Simple
You have planned what you want to say, but how are you going to say it?
Consider which points can best be conveyed in words; which are best conveyed by the use of audio visual aids; and which are best put in writing as a handout document. Is the audience suitable for techniques of group discussion, exercises and syndicate work, or is a straightforward presentation most appropriate?
- Prepare notes to outline your presentation. Notes, whether on cards or on a sheet of paper, are memory joggers - not a script. They should clearly indicate when visual aids are to be used and how long each topic should take.
- Think about and practice saying what you are going to say. Try to use simple words and concepts - avoid jargon. Be positive, precise and pertinent.
- Consider the use of visual aids. Not too many - but used well they add a lot of impact. They also take people's eyes off you. So if you are nervous, try to get something up on the screen near the start of your presentation to give yourself a little time to relax.
- Consider using anecdotes and humour to make your points. But be careful. If you attempt a joke that falls fiat it will be much worse than if you hadn't bothered. If in doubt, try out your anecdote on a friend. Short anecdotes and jokes are much more likely to succeed than long ones. Spontaneous humour is good; but forced or stilted humour is likely to irritate.
- Rehearse. Try setting the room out as you want it and using your visual aids. Speak aloud and see how long each topic takes - and revise accordingly. Ideally, rehearse in front of one or two people and get their reactions. One of the effects of rehearsal is to gain experience and hence increase your confidence.
- Check everything twice.
Good delivery may be typified by a relaxed and confident manner; clear and well-paced speech and good audience rapport. That doesn't help much, does it? What does help, is to improve your confidence through hard work in preparation and rehearsal. The more you practice the better you will get. But the most important point to remember about delivery, and about content is NEVER BE BORING!
Most texts on effective presentations will tell you to "avoid distracting mannerisms". Inexperienced presenters, therefore, tend to stand stiffly and rigidly in front of their audience.
It is better not to worry about any little manner-isms you may have. After all, think about some of the well known presenters on television - David Bellamy, Patrick Moore, and many others. Their mannerisms convey enthusiasm and confidence and they are more interesting to watch than if they sat perfectly still when presenting.
However, what you must do is make sure that your appearance is likely to inspire confidence in your audience. Obviously, that will be different for a group of bank managers than for a group of mountain climbers. Dress to give yourself confidence.
Maintain eye contact with your audience. Respond to them - do they look confused or surprised? Check their understanding of key points. Allow them to ask you questions, but keep control.
Try to end with impact. Thank your audience for their time and interest. Finally, do not be surprised if you feel emotionally drained afterwards. This is normal, but it tends to make you feel that you've been worse than you actually were. Assess your performance and decide how to do it better next time!
©Ken Davies, Ivojo Multimedia Ltd.