“The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.
George Bernard Shaw
Whether presenting to a small group of colleagues at a team meeting or opening a conference as the keynote speaker, being asked to deliver a presentation can be enough to have even the most confident of us breaking out into a cold sweat.
The good news is that presentation skills can be learnt like any others, and preparing properly and being well organised can remove much of the anxiety.
So whether you need to make a presentation to your employees, the board or a potential client, here are six key things to remember:
1) It’s not about you!
Many people have the same set of concerns: will I look stupid? Will I say the right things?
Will I get my words mixed up? Understandably, the focus is all on the presenter, when of course it should actually be on the audience! Ask yourself: why should they listen? What’s in it for them? Why will they be better off after your presentation? This will quickly move you to the second point.
2) Begin with the end in mind
Broadly, presentations have at least one of two purposes: to provide information (how to use the new computer system; the best sights to visit on a city break) or encourage the audience to take a particular course of action (give to charity, buy your service, join a club). So start with the outcome you are seeking and work backwards through the information you need to convey, in order to convince your audience about the particular course of action required.
Ask yourself the question, “So what?” repeatedly and ditch any superfluous information.
Make the message or request absolutely, crystal clear.
3) Get grounded
You will feel more confident if the space is familiar. Try to arrive in good time. If possible, visit the day before. Notice the layout of the room; where will people be sitting? Where will you be standing? Is there a table or lectern for your notes? Is there a clock that you can see to help manage time? Observe the size of the screen – will people need handouts for detailed information? Note the feel of the table: is it warm or cold to your touch, smooth or rough? Feel the ground through your shoes. As you rise to start your presentation take a few seconds to get grounded again, feel the texture of the table, feel the ground again, see that the clock is still in place. Gain confidence from the fact that the world is unchanged, breathe and start ….
4) FUMER and making your first words count
It is acknowledged that most people have a limited capacity to absorb information before their minds wander. So you need to strike while the iron is hot! Research indicates that people absorb information most effectively under particular circumstances. We use the mnemonic FUMER:
First – make your first words count: “At the end of this presentation you will want to buy this magnificent new widget because it will save you time, money and energy” rather than “My name is X, my Company was established in 1968, we have offices in 23 countries …” Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz So what?
Unusual – people recall unusual things. Set off a firework, fall off the stage, show an image of an elephant wearing a shower cap. Reinforce your key points with something out of the ordinary.
Mnemonics – they’re particularly useful when training or wanting someone to remember something. Most people will recall SMART objectives, some may even remember FUMER.
Endings are like beginnings – people are more inclined to remember them. So end your presentation with punch, power and panache – don’t go out with a fizzle.
Repetition – the basis of much advertising is about repetition – think of the 118 118 campaign. Repeat the messages you want remembered or acted upon – at the beginning, in the middle, at the end.
5) Use slides sparingly, if at all
Could you deliver the presentation if there were a power cut? If not, why not? After all, if you are clear about the message you are conveying, there should be no reason to do anything but communicate with your audience. When used properly, visual aids can help reinforce your verbal message – however do not allow your technical prowess on PowerPoint distract from the main objective of your presentation.
Use good old-fashioned handouts for detailed or complex data. Use slides to give structure to your presentation and contain trigger points for the main points you wish to remember. Your notes can contain the detail. This will keep your focus on the audience rather than on delving around in the recesses of your memory for some forgotten facts.
That’s it. Just do.