I was sitting in Tarsus early this week. To be clear, I don’t mean the ancient city where back in 418BC Mark Antony first laid eyes on Cleopatra (that ended well?). More so, an aptly named comfortable meeting room at a client of mine’s office. I was waiting to present to a group of people. I was feeling relaxed and ready. I was early (always be early).
Whilst sitting there, I thought back to a lot of the presentations I have given over the last decade or so, and all the training I have gone through (including, and I reckon it is the best thing to do, being filmed presenting, although confronting at first it is quickest way to improve). One might say my experience is a relatively healthy foundation to have, but fundamentally I was feeling relaxed for a number of reasons. Namely: I knew the content well; I had already met most of the attendees; the presentation is refined and relatively stimulating; and I was not pitching for work or similar. Having these boxes ticked makes a difference, the pressure is off, but generally we don’t have all the boxes ticked before we present.
Presenting and public speaking are some of the harder personal skills to conquer. My generation rarely practised at school, started presenting a little at university and then our first true exposure is in the corporate world. Things are a little different nowadays, my kids (6 and 7 years old) have been presenting since their first year at school. I have even helped with PowerPoint presentations, however, teachers would rather they have no visuals but mere palm cards to talk around. Starting young.
If you google “how to present“, there are a useful 138 million hits to sift through during your lunch break in preparation for the impending pitch to senior management. To make this post a little useful, here are some tips that have helped me over the years:
Know your subject and practice, practice / Simple. All the below tips are much easier if you know your subject or at least have practiced your presentation. The more you practice the better it is for both your nerves and the audience’s enjoyment. The trick is to engage as much with your audience and not focus on the actual content of the presentation (try to never read from slides – and if you have to, let the audience know you are about to). Which ever way you are planning to present (say with PowerPoint or Prezi), the slides and content are prompts and very brief summaries. You hold the content.
The 5×5 rule / No more than 5 bullet points and no more than 5 words per bullet point. The better you know your content the easier this is. Always use large text too.
Here is an example of using large text and maintaining the 5×5 rule from one of my personal presentations on LinkedIn to an APAC audience.
Use images / If you can avoid words, use images. This is always powerful and the audience engages much better with an interesting image. One large image that you talk to, shows you know your stuff. Once the audience has registered the image they then naturally reset their attention back on to you.
The hook / They say the first 60 seconds are critical – no pressure, right?! My advice is start with a blank black screen. Start with a story that ties into the presentation. A gentle laugh is as good as a poignant message around your topic. Talk to this without slides. The audience will respect you and your confidence.
The focus is you / I mentioned this earlier, but it is worth reiterating. Keep the audience focused on you the speaker, not your presentation. I sometimes, hit B on the keyboard (works on PCs and Macs) which makes the screen go black. This then focusses completely on the topic being discussed and draws the audience away from slides.
Turn, pause, turn, deliver / Okay this needs practice, but it is brilliant! If you suddenly freeze, and forget what you were next going to say, then try this. (i) Slowly Turn your head and body to the screen (ii) Pause, take a breath, read the slide, relax (iii) Turn back to the audience, smile (iv) then Deliver / continue the presentation. Easy!
Avoid the ‘Scatter gun’ / When talking to an audience, try not to move your head around too much. This is known at the ‘scatter gun’. It is always better to be confident whilst speaking, and only move your head whilst pausing. Finally, and if applicable, try to focus your closing statement on the key decision maker.
Please feel free to share this with your colleagues and network, and let me know if you have any other good tips to consider. I would also love to hear of your own experiences, good, bad, funny.
Thanks for reading.