There is a popular misconception that a collection of slides in a PowerPoint file is your presentation. Whether you are presenting to your local chamber of commerce, prospective investor or an industry analyst, delivering your message succinctly is key.
Have you ever sat in a boardroom meeting where someone was reading verbatim off of wordy slides? Sure, the slides may contain some valuable information, but you may ask yourself why that person had to put these slides together if you could have just read everything they were going to say in the first place! You may even find that you’re tuning out the speaker because you have already read everything before they finished.
When it comes to presenting, the slides are not the product on display – the speaker is. The person is the presentation. Not even the best slides can save a presentation if an individual cannot effectively communicate the main ideas behind the topic at hand.
A great presentation can inspire, motivate, and energize an organization or team in the workplace. As communication professionals, it is important that we all have at least some baseline proficiency in communicating the content of a presentation. While some may dread the idea of public speaking, a presentation does not have to be a frightening task. Here are five tips to ensure that you will be able to deliver a presentation that your audience will remember.
Determine if a Presentation is Necessary
Before you decide to create and deliver a presentation, ask yourself whether the topic at hand requires that time and effort in the first place. Can a short email memo or a one-on-one chat with a coworker or supervisor accomplish the goal behind the presentation just as effectively?
In the workplace, presentations are best used when important and/or timely information needs to be relayed to a large group of people quickly. For example, if your HR department made a major policy change to the standards of conduct, then a presentation could best onboard everyone to these new guidelines at the same time and provide an environment for employees to ask questions and gain more clarity on these changes. However, if the issue is either of minor significance or something that only needs to be discussed amongst a few individuals, consider if other means of communicating a message are more appropriate.
Rehearse, but Don’t Draft a Script
Think of delivering presentations as a semi-impromptu performance art and you are the actor on the stage. What do theatrical professionals do before the big show? They rehearse multiple times to prepare. While you are not memorizing lines when presenting, per se, you still want to communicate your message with a degree of eloquence that can set the audience members at ease. This comes from knowing the key points of your arguments and knowing in advance how you will transition between them. Acting nervous as the presenter can make your listeners feel just as uncomfortable.
It is important, however, to remember not to over-rehearse. Unlike actors, a presenter does not want to sound like they are reading a script. Keeping bullet points on hand can serve as a suitable compromise in this situation, because they act as reminders without telling you exactly what to say and require very little reading. When speaking, you want to maintain a conversational, yet professional tone that can relax your audience members and make your information more easily digestible.
Keep Your Message Simple
Steve Jobs mastered the art of presenting. He possessed an almost supernatural ability to distill information to its most basic essence and communicate it in a way that excited even the most pessimistic tech journalists. Why? He avoided overcomplicating his message. Take the iPod, for example. The message: Apple wants to change the way you listen to music and put 1000 songs in your pocket. He disrupted the Sony Walkman era and relegated hard copies of your favorite albums to the status of a novelty collectors’ item. If he spent hours running through every single technical aspect of the device with complex diagrams and specs, the average consumer would have tuned it out the minute the tech jargon strayed too far away from conversational English.
Keeping your message simple not only allows your audience to better retain information, but it also shows that you have a mastery of the information you are sharing and can communicate it in a way that almost anyone can grasp. As you are preparing to deliver your next presentation, consider the central message or main idea behind its contents and be sure to communicate it multiple times throughout the presentation to best reinforce it as the thesis.
Keep Words on Slides to a Minimum
If you write out everything you’re going to say in your presentation on your slides, not only does that create a boring visual that’s difficult to navigate, but you’re giving away the information before you have a chance to deliver it! Avoid using full sentences and a long list of bullet points. Putting too many words on your slides may cause more of a distraction than you might think, because your audience may spend more time reading what’s on your slide rather than listening to you speak.
Instead of loading slides up with words, use very few or eliminate them altogether in favor of other visuals like pictures, GIFs, or videos. Think of your presentation slides as emojis for the human voice. Emojis are used in text-based communications to associate a feeling or attitude with a message. Use the visuals in your slides as a tool for accenting your spoken words with a particular emotion, tone, or idea as you speak to those in attendance.
Leave Room for Audience Engagement
From a nonverbal standpoint, reading from your slides communicates that you do not have a mastery of the information you are presenting on. Why should your audience consider you an authority on the topic if you cannot speak about it without a script?
Instead of reading directly from your slides, prioritize engaging with your audience members above all else. Make eye contact to let them know you want to connect with them. If you are in a smaller, boardroom-type setting, also consider asking your listeners questions, allotting time in the presentation for group discussion, and allowing them to ask their own questions at a set point as well. This will invite other voices into the boardroom and not only engage them in the topic you are presenting on, but it will take some pressure off of having to move the show along all on your own.