Presenting: you either love it or hate it. Whether you like it or not, at some point in your life the spotlight will be on you.
I will never forget my first big presentation. I was 18, in front of an auditorium full of ruthless High School students. I fumbled my notes, was overcome by nerves and barely scraped through my talk. Afterwards, I felt sick in my stomach at the thought of ever presenting again!
Over the years I have learned to love presenting. After a rough start, it’s taken a lot of hard work and practice... and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
Here are the five key things that I’ve learned to help deliver the perfect presentation:
1. Know your audience
What’s the first thing you do when starting a presentation? Open up Powerpoint or Prezi and stare at the page waiting for inspiration? Or perhaps you dig through some old presentations looking for a starting point?
Before you jump in, take the time to think about your audience. Consider their backgrounds, position and any biases they might have. How do they like to consume information? What are they hoping to get out of your presentation?
Taking the time to think about your audience before you start your presentation will laser focus you on what your audience needs, setting you up for success.
2. Know your objectives
After thinking about your audience, take some time to consider your end goal. The best presenters know their objectives from the outset, and use this to craft the perfect narrative.
Think about the key points that you want your audience to take from your presentation. How are you going to convey this clearly to your audience? What is the story your presentation will tell?
At this early stage, it’s easy to come unstuck trying to pull your presentation together. As someone who spends A LOT of time in Powerpoint, I know how easy it is to waste hours getting caught up in designing your deck.
Stop wasting time by closing Powerpoint and getting out your notebook or a Word document, and start writing out your presentation.
Creating a narrative without distraction will help you work out the important points that you want to make.
Try the BBQ test: if you were to tell your friends about your topic at a BBQ, what would you say? What are the key points that you would make? This can be a great starting point to build up your story and get you on the way to a perfect presentation.
3. Know what to focus on
I’d hazard a guess that we have all sat through more than one dull presentation. Often with the best intentions, a well-researched presentation can go inspirational and informative to snooze-worthy in seconds, with the key points hidden away in cluttered slides filled with 8 point font.
Remember that you are presenting to humans (not machines!) who are taking time out of their busy day to listen to you.
One of the fastest ways to disengage an audience is to overwhelm them with large chunks of words or data. Respect their time by presenting the insight, not the data.
An excellent presenter once told me, think of your data as a dictionary. Ask yourself, what’s the point of this information? Focus on delivering the important messages during your presentation. If your audience is engaged, they will be keen to find out more later!
4. Know you’re ready to go
Practice really does make perfect! It goes without saying that the more you practice, the less you need to rely on your notes, freeing you up to engage with your audience. When you know your stuff, you can inject some personality into the presentation and won’t fall into a heap as soon as a juicy question is thrown your way.
Presentation skills expert Yolanda Maliepaard says that there are three main parts of a presentation where people show nerves:
- the welcome
- and first topic
Make time in your practice sessions to get these parts nailed to ensure you get off to a strong start.
If you are used to presenting with a script, try memorizing one or two lines for each slide. Then, if you get stuck or simply off track, you have something to fall back on that allows you the opportunity to take a breath, stop and reset.
5. Know your power
Overcoming nerves and showing confidence is critical for the perfect presentation.
If the thought of presenting also makes you feel sick, trust me: the more you do it, the better it gets… you just need to know your power.
Once you have prepared and practiced, there’s one last thing for you to know: you’ve got this.
To help build your power, try “power posing” in private before your presentation. If you are struggling with nerves or feel like you lack presence when presenting, I highly recommend Amy Cuddy’s TED talk and book Presence to help you embrace your own power.
Now there’s only one thing left to know: with proper preparation, research, a strong story and a little bit of confidence, you are on your way to delivering the perfect presentation.
This post was originally published on the Firebrand Ideas Ignition blog.