You’ve worked hard on that first presentation; really putting yourself out to make it as professional as possible. However, all the effort that went into creating perfect pie-charts, brilliant bar graphs and supreme scatter plots could count for nothing if you reveal yourself to be a panic-stricken presenter.
Speaking to an audience can be a daunting prospect for the beginner, but with careful planning you can go a long way towards eliminating some of the glitches that can derail a presentation in mid-journey, such as nerves or unreliable equipment. Below, with old television show sub-headings, are some tips on how to prepare a presentation that will keep your audience’s focus where it should be: on the content.
Your audience will be looking at your visual aids and you, so after taking so much trouble with the former, you don’t want to be a disappointment with the latter. If you think of your visual display as an elegant bone china teapot, you should be standing next to it like a matching cup and saucer, not a Starsky & Hutch mug with a chip in the rim. Remember you are doing a presentation – part of that includes presenting yourself.
Ready Steady Go
Nerves can scupper any presentation, as regular viewers of Dragons’ Den will know. It can be difficult to overcome a bout of nerves, but there are a few simple things you can do to help ease the situation, such as deep breathing and having a good supply of fresh water to lubricate that dry throat. Put the presentation into context alongside other nervy moments in your life, like passing your driving test or attending the funeral of a loved one, and you’ll see where it lies in the grand scheme of things. The chances are that you have done far more nerve-wracking things than this presentation, so see it for what it is and sail through it.
No Hiding Place
The telescopic pointer is no tool for the shrinking violet, so when you start your presentation, do so with an air of confidence. Don’t mumble with your chin on your chest like a bashful child reciting a poem to the rest of the class, but find a good volume level and stick with it for the duration (remember those sips of water). Maintain eye contact with your audience and don’t be afraid to become animated when emphasising points. Your audience probably won’t know that you are new to this, so why give the game away?
There are few quicker ways to become flustered and lose your audience than when something goes wrong with your visuals. Whether on PowerPoint, an OHP or a bog standard flip chart, if the words coming out of your mouth do not relate to the visuals your audience is looking at, the whole presentation can deteriorate into confusion. Be sure to check all of the equipment you will be using beforehand. Start up any electrical visual aids well in advance, and have a dummy run to check that slides etc are in the correct order. Remember also minor details like ensuring felt pens have not dried up, and your presentation should run as smoothly as a penguin down a water slide.
Don’t alienate your audience by simply reeling off facts and figures; try to inject a little humour into proceedings. If your audience hears a line that makes them smile, then they will remain more attentive in the hope of hearing more, but don’t overdo it. If you have your audience roaring with laughter, the main thrust of the presentation could be lost, and maybe you should be considering a career in stand-up comedy.
The key is to pay attention to detail; rehearse your lines and ensure that all equipment is in working order. Do this and you will have laid the foundations for a successful presentation. And after you have the first one out of the way, the following ones will be even easier.