Surviving and thriving at presentations

Posted on 6 June 2014 by Emily Stella

Public speaking is not my thing.

Prior to a speaking event, do I conjure up images of stumbling over my words? Yes. Do I have night sweats? Yes. Do I wish I could jump on the next available plane? Absolutely. And it seems I’m not alone.

Ridiculous as this may sound, the British population fears public speaking more than death. Most of us would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy!

But if you’re like me, writing a cracking presentation that you’ve prepared thoroughly can take some of the dread away. So here are seven tips to that winning presentation.

1. Talk about them, not you

In other words, write for your audience. (Are you bored of this one yet?)

If there is ever an important time to write for an audience it’s when writing a presentation. After all, people have arrived to listen and learn from you. So tell them things that are relevant to them. Don’t start your presentation by talking about your credentials, your company or your product. The audience will suss out your selling tactics straight away and switch off. It will be hard to win them back.

2. Deliver a storyline

Every good presentation has a solid story, a well-planned journey for the audience. Don’t just run off a list of ideas and concepts in a random sequence. If you have a good story, your audience is more likely to follow your line of thought and remember your all-important take-away message(s).

3. Use headlines not titles

Presentations often involve data-rich charts, which are hard for people to digest. Write a headline (think newspaper headline) above the chart, rather than a title. This will help your audience understand the key point to take from the data and will act as a prompt for you.

So, as an example, instead of writing ‘Total value size of the UK footwear market’ above your chart, how about ‘Growth of UK footwear market doubles this year. Market now estimated at £10bn.’

4. Ditch the slide text

Avoid too much text on your slides. An audience reads everything that’s presented to them. If they’re reading a slide, they’re not listening to you. And vice versa.

A few key prompt words here and there will give your presentation structure and help you when speaking. And think images. Lots of images. You want your audience awake and engaged. So keep things fun with colourful and powerful images that say a lot about your topic.

5.Involve the audience

Audience interaction isn’t always possible – especially if you’re presenting to large numbers. However, it’s good to incorporate interaction for two reasons:

(a) If you’re a nervous presenter, it deflects attention from you and gives you a few moments to gather your thoughts.

(b) The presentation will be much more interesting for everyone else.

So, play games with your audience, ask them questions or invite them to predict the results of your research before revealing them.

6. Start fast and finish strong

My Ronseal ‘does what it says on the tin’ tip. Dive into your topic with haste, avoiding lengthy introductions (see tip 1). And, as you close the presentation, leave your audience with something to remember you by – a funny visual or meaningful message.

7. Visualisation

Some people find it helps to picture their audience naked. I can’t think of anything worse, but give it a try and see if it works for you.
Disclaimer: adopting the advice given in this blog won’t guarantee presentation success. But flopping a few times is good for the soul.