Opportunities to make presentations are increasing in number. Even if you are not in management, you could be called upon to make a presentation as part of a task force that is recommending a change, a work team that is reporting its results to management, or your own desire to sell a significant new idea. This section will show you how to get ready for a presentation and how to conduct it with maximum impact.
Before your presentation, you should:
Research the members of your audience. Find out what their "hot buttons" are.
Prepare thoroughly. Make sure you have supporting documentation. For complex presentations, prepare information packages for each attendee, preferably distributing them ahead of time.
Choose your visual-aid medium. Slides or overheads are suitable for a formal presentation; a flip chart can be used for more informal events. Visual aids can reduce comprehension time by about 40 percent.
Plan to accommodate the different types of learning styles:
Your presentation will have the greatest effect if it includes all three forms.
Plan your agenda. It should cover:
welcome and introductions;
objectives of the presentation;
description of the problem;
explanation of the solution;
benefits to your audience;
your action plan;
your methodology in reaching a conclusion;
request for permission to proceed;
Prepare your visual aids (slides or overheads). Remember to
keep them short and concise;
have no more than one idea per slide or transparency;
use pictures wherever possible;
keep lettering large and legible.
Plan the verbal part of your presentation, keeping it short (fifteen to twenty minutes). The simpler the proposal, the shorter the presentation should be. Use the KISS principle. (Keep It Short and Sweet).
Do a dry run. Get your information all together and pretend you are facing your audience members. Imagine their reactions. If you tape-record your performance, you will be able to gauge where to improve the presentation and your timing.
Invite the audience members well before the presentation, and confirm their attendance shortly before.
On the day of the presentation, you should:
Get there early. Make sure that the equipment you need is there and that the seating is set up appropriately.
Try the view from different parts of the room to make sure that everyone in your audience will be able to see the projection screen and/or flip chart.
Check the equipment and do a test run with the slide or over-head projector to make sure it works and to get comfortable with it.
Make sure you have spare projector bulbs. Murphy's Law ensures that a bulb will burn out during a key part of your presentation if you don't have a spare one.
If your audience members will be seated at tables, set up a place for each person, with name card, agenda, and paper and pen, if appropriate. Do not, however, hand out your written material until your spoken presentation is over. Otherwise your audience will be reading instead of listening.
During your presentation, you should:
Welcome your audience members with confidence and warmth as they arrive. Greet them with a smile and a relaxed handshake.
Welcome attendees officially after all have sat down, and outline your plans for the meeting, including breaks, if any. Let them know they will receive copies of your presentation at the end. If the presentation is taking place away from their normal workplace, also direct your audience to washrooms and emergency exits.
Make sure your listeners know how you intend to take questions, whether at the end of the presentation or as issues arise. The latter approach will demonstrate both confidence in your material and consideration for those attending.
Keep to your agenda, making clear which item you are dealing with and when it has been completed.
Begin with a bang. Use a human-interest anecdote to get your audience emotionally involved, or offer a radical challenge that will pique listeners' interest.
Use rhetorical or actual questions to keep your listeners feeling part of the presentation. Periodically ask for a show of hands on a particular issue. Challenge your audience.
Pay the most attention to members of your audience who are likely to give constructive feedback during question-and-answer sessions, thus putting you in a positive light (see also Meetings: Managing People).
When faced with a long-winded, rambling question, ask if the questioner can summarize the gist in about twenty words (see also Meetings: Managing People).
Paraphrase questions so that the entire audience can hear them. This will also give you time to think about your answer.
Use answering questions as a means to restate your important points.
Avoid trying to answer a question when you can't. Either poll the audience for someone who does know the answer, or offer to get back to the questioner when you have had a chance to check the information.
Prevent hostile audience members from railroading your presentation by
avoiding a defensive stance;
refusing to engage in argument;
focusing on facts rather than opinions;
polling other members of your audience for their opinions;
offering to deal with their concerns, preferably outside the meeting, especially if they are off topic (see also Meetings: Managing People).
Keep the presentation short and concise. Don't bore your audience by dealing with information they know — focus on new material.
Avoid insulting your listeners by reading to them from your written presentation or visual material. Give them a few seconds to absorb each slide and then paraphrase it to emphasize your main points.
Keep your presentation moving smoothly with "bridging" remarks between slides or overheads.
Maintain eye contact with the audience. To increase audience contact:
Scan your listeners, looking at each for a few seconds. Concentrate on those who seem to be responding positively; this will increase your confidence.
Never turn your back to read from or describe something on the screen. You will be hard to hear and could lose your audience.
Keep your audience interested:
Vary the pace of your presentation.
Change tactics every five to seven minutes. Different approaches include asking questions of your listeners, doing a poll, getting the audience to fill in a form or questionnaire, setting up group activities, etc.
Modify your speech. Change the volume, speed, and tone of your voice from time to time, especially when you are about to make an important point.
Make assertive (not aggressive) gestures at key points. These could include pointing a finger, punching the air, or using familiar signals from sports.
Keep moving. Standing stiffly behind a podium may make you feel safer, but it will set up a barrier. Walk around the room, getting closer to your listeners during questions. You will find that the activity will release tension and make you feel more in tune with your audience.
AFTER THE PRESENTATION
Use this list to evaluate how well you did. It will help you identify areas to improve on next time. You should be able to answer yes to all the questions.