This is the first in a two-part blog about presentation design and delivery.
Part 1: Preparing Your Content
Pat is a high-performing manager. She gets results from her team, is respected by her employees and her bosses, and consistently demonstrates expertise in her field. She has high emotional intelligence. In fact, one of the only areas Pat struggles with is her presentation skills. Presenting isn’t something she’s called upon to do often, but nonetheless it is an important aspect of her job. Trouble is, Pat hates presenting—and truth is, she isn’t very good at it. She tends to procrastinate developing her content, doesn’t rehearse it since doing so makes her even more nervous to present. When she does present, she reads directly from her text-heavy screen slides and often races through the content to get it done as quickly as possible. As expected, her audiences tend to not enjoy her presentations all that much either.
Pat’s lack of aptitude in this area is holding her back. It might be holding you back as well. The good news is that in addition to many of the other skills Solutions Arts has been discussing with you lately, you (and Pat) can develop the art of presenting effectively.
An effective presentation involves two things: preparing your content and practicing your delivery. Working diligently to improve both of these areas will most certainly strengthen your presentation abilities and increase the overall effectiveness of your message, in turn increasing audience engagement. In this first of two articles on presenting, we’ll focus on preparing your content.
Pre-work: Research Your Audience
Before you start over-populating slides and creating what Nancy Duarte refers to in her book slide:ology as “sliduments,” do some prework and planning. Doing this upfront will increase the chances that you’ll have a targeted presentation with the right content.
Start by understanding who you’re talking to and why they should care. You may be able to wax lyrical about your content for hours on end, but with a presentation you’ve got a specific amount of time and a specific audience. No matter the purpose of the presentation (to inform, instruct, persuade, or entertain), never forget that you’re presenting to meet your audience’s needs and must clearly convey what’s in it for them. What do they gain (or lose) by paying attention? What do they gain (or lose) by adjusting their point of view or acting on your recommendations? Acknowledge where they might resist you and give them compelling reasons for taking the uncomfortable step of working through that resistance. If you don’t convey that, the rest is moot. You’re basically talking to yourself.
Make It Interactive
Talk to your audience, not at them. Ask them questions. A “raise of hands” here, a “nod your head” there. Help them feel like they’re involved in a conversation. Just because you’re in an online session, doesn’t mean you can’t interact. Leverage the chat tool to encourage participants to ask questions (if you can, have someone monitoring the chat while you present, which decreases your chances of getting distracted). You can also use features such as polls or the Raise Hand tool to engage your audience .
However , interaction is just about those overt actions. It’s also being able to read the audience and tweak your content accordingly. If cameras are on your participants or when you’re in a room with your audience, look for reactions. If several people seem confused, take a moment to go back and explain a bit more . If you sense a lot of resistance, try to add more time to that section of the presentation.
Prepare To Be Present; Know Your Content—Don’t Memorize It
Connecting with your audience brings us to the art of being present, or “in the moment;” you’re paying attention to what’s going on in the room (virtual or in-person) and you’re able to successfully respond to it. That makes your presentation truly interactive. It also builds the connection with the audience; the more connected they feel, the more likely they are to absorb the content or your message.
To be truly present means you aren’t tied to a script. You have to be able to adapt the content as needed. You should absolutely create a detailed outline for your talk. If it helps you to write out a script, that’s fine as well; however, as you start to revise, you’re better off putting notes/bullet points in the comments area of your presentation (and use in Presentation Mode so you can see them) versus trying to memorize a full script (we’ll also discuss how this helps with nerves). For most of us, memorization is going to take us out of the moment.
... your slides should be enhancing what you’re saying, not simply repeating it and certainly not distracting from it.
Stop Abusing the Slide Deck
The walls of text. The pixelated clip art. The “fun” backgrounds. The playful animation. You’ve seen it. You might have done it. We’re not here to judge what you’ve done. But your slides should be enhancing what you’re saying, not simply repeating it and certainly not distracting from it. In his TEDx talk, “How to avoid death by PowerPoint,” David Phillips says, “If you have … sentences on your PowerPoint, and you persist with the annoying idea of speaking at the same time, what will be remembered by the audience is zero. Or very close to zero.”
Click here to read more from our presentation design guru, Brian Prosser.
Below is an example of how you can update a text-heavy slide to support what you’re saying rather than simply listing the content and reading it. On the right, the content has been moved to the comments area and we use an image to provide more information and visual interest.
Reaching the Half-Way Point
Well-constructed content that’s supported by a well-constructed deck is only part of the formula to a great presentation. Once you know your audience and have the content in a good place, it’s time to develop your delivery. We’ll discuss that and offer tips in next week’s blog.
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