Debra A. Gill
Be in the know before you go.
Making an effective presentation all comes down to what you know. And I don’t just mean the subject matter, I mean what you need to know as you design your presentation, as you prepare your presentation, and as you deliver your presentation.
Know your style – What are some of the most memorable presentations you’ve attended. What did you like? What didn’t you like? What worked? What didn’t work? Which ones resonated with you and why?
Know your audience – Anticipate the demographics, knowledgeability, and attention span of those who may attend your presentation. What will it take to truly capture the interest of those in the room? What questions might they pose? What will they know when they leave that they didn’t know when they arrived?
Know your space – Are you more comfortable behind a podium, roaming about the room, or a combination of both? If you like the safety of a podium, move to the side periodically and take a new stance to create some movement. If you plan on walking around, which is my preference, make sure you have the appropriate microphone to accommodate your motion.
Know your format – Will this be a panel, a group presentation, or are you flying solo? The interactive dynamic between two or more speakers can be very engaging and creates space for the non-speaking partners to gather their thoughts between topics. Panels offer a variety of wisdom and often attract more participants. Solo presenters can be just as effective if they are in the know and have an engaging subject. Have a plan for responding to questions throughout your presentation or hold until the Q/A session if applicable. Avoid getting sidetracked by the curious audience member who loves rabbit trails.
Know your topic – Being well-versed on all aspects of the topics you are covering will allow you to be as relaxed and interactive as possible. If you aren’t sure of the answer to a question, say so but the more you know the more credible you will be.
Know your presentation – Sketch an outline with key points and messaging and then flesh things out from there. Think back to your first story writing lesson which needed an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Don’t read off the slides and don’t read from your notes. Extemporaneous is vastly more credible. The slides should highlight your key points but don’t need to be jam packed with details. People can read or listen but not both. Include handouts if more details are needed.
Know your body – Hand motion, posture, and facial expressions are essential connectors. What are your movements saying about your confidence and knowledge? I am a hand talker and I know it, so I concentrate on alternating between gestures and gently clasping my hands to make sure they don’t become distracting.
Know your ticks – Do you say um, you know, guys, like – any word that is repeated frequently – especially filler words – can become distracting and diminish your credibility as a speaker. One of my speech professors had us put a rubber band around our wrist and snap it when we caught ourselves using filler words. Unorthodox but effective!
Know what makes a great presentation –
Be relatable - tell stories to engage your audience
Make eye contact - pick a face, any face, and talk to them directly, switching it up and moving gradually throughout the room to connect with a variety of people and establish rapport
Smile - and laugh when appropriate, have fun with your audience and they will have fun with you
Pause - use silence for emphasis and to gain attention
Breath - smell the flowers blow out the candles. If you get the nervous jitters – and you notice them – and the audience notices them – the jitters will worsen unless you take deep cleansing breaths to calm those nerves.
Speak Slowly – don’t rush, make sure to carefully articulate your words so everyone can understand what you are saying.
Know your resources – If you want to become an exceptional presenter, join a Toastmasters group. And, practice, practice, practice – including videotaping your presentation which is easy these days with virtual platforms. Pay special attention to your ticks and count your ums.
Know that presenting isn’t a matter of life or death – It’s an opportunity to convey your knowledge to willing listeners, mentor others and, hopefully take your audience to a new level of understanding.
How will you know if you’ve been successful? For me, it is seeing people put down their phones and pay attention. My goal is to know my audience well enough, and engage them deeply enough, to be more interesting than whatever it is they are doing on their phones.
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