Planning And Practice Make For A Great Presentation


What is in it for the audience is the most important question that you can ask yourself. (Photo credit: thinkmedialabs)

One of the things I have noticed working with new managers is that they do not like to plan their presentations out.  If they have to deliver a presentation they open up PowerPoint and start making slides.  When they feel like they covered the topic, then they stop making slides.  Some of them will practice it before they go up, and others just present it without ever having gone through it.  A lot of them can deliver a perfectly satisfactory presentation.  It will not knock your socks off, but it will get the job done.  If satisfactory is all you are going for then perhaps you can adopt this style.  If you are looking actually leave a positive impression on people then I would suggest focusing a little more effort on planning and practice.

Planning:   When you learn that you need to deliver a presentation, then the first thing you should do is not open PowerPoint but rather put a little thought into what you are trying to accomplish.  Why are presenting?  What is the message that you are trying to convey?  What do you want people to walk away with and remember?  A lot of times when I ask presenters these questions they either have vague answers or no answers at all.  A lot of times managers will tell me that their goal is to impress the audience.  What does that mean?  I think the goals needs to be a little more specific than that. 

When you are going to speak, consider why you have been asked to speak.  What message are you trying to convey?  Most importantly, why should anyone in the audience care what you have to say?  How can you help them?

Once you have identified what is in it for the audience and what you want them to walk away with the presentation design gets much easier.  After I have figured those things out, then I like to start drafting my presentation, but I generally will do this on paper.  I just sketch out how I going to open, what my major points, what support I will use for each of those points and then finally how I will close.  I want to make sure that I open with something that will grab the audience’s attention immediately and will also let them know what they are going to get from my presentation.  I usually try to open with a quick story that is relevant to the topic.  If I am talking about management, then I might tell a quick story about a poor management decision that I made and how I hope the audience can learn from my mistake.  Everyone loves a good story and chances are some of the audience members have made the same mistake.  What I never do is talk about my qualifications or experience.  Introduce yourself, but don’t spend ten minutes talking about your qualifications.  If you tell a good story and give them something to walk away with that will help them then they probably won’t care what you qualifications were.  They will just be happy they got to hear you speak. 

Once I have the presentation sketched out and I am happy with it, then I open PowerPoint and start designing slides.  Slide design is not my topic today, so I will keep it brief by saying use images often and do not write out full sentences on your slides.  One other thing, don’t cram ten points onto one slide that no one can read.  Use ten slides that everyone can see clearly instead. 

Practice:  This is the other half of the equation and it is also something that new managers tend not to do.  I have had managers give me a lot reasons why they don’t practice.   I have yet to hear a good one.  I have given hundreds of presentations and no one will convince me that practice does not help.   Here are a few quick tips on how to get the most out of your practice sessions:

–           Get as close to the speech setting as you can.  This means using a projector and standing up while you are talking.  If you are using any types of props or visual aids then include them in your practice sessions.  Practice in the room you will be using if possible.

–          Time yourself.  If you are supposed to be speaking for ten minutes and you realize you have 100 minutes of material, then something needs to give.  Either shorten your presentation or work with the meeting organizer to get a bigger time slot.  No one will complain if you sit down a minute or two early, but they tune you out if you start running over.

–          Listen closely to yourself or have a few friends listen in on your practice session.  Does what you saying make sense?  Does it have a good flow?  Make adjustments where necessary. 

–          Do it more than once.  I practice a minimum of three times before any presentation.  Practice does make perfect.

What tips do you have for preparing for an important presentation?

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