January 25, 2017

Presentations that slog on and are all over the place are a buzzkill. Work presentations are mainly designed to inform, persuade and make a point. Given to small groups in an intimate setting, they tend to be detailed and data-intensive and rooted in a clear, logical structure.

It’s time to ditch the traditional public speaking tips and focus on the people you are presenting to, ‘your audience with a specific need’. Not to say that PowerPoint and maintaining eye contact are passé, here are seven tips to help you add a little zing to your next presentation: 

presentation tips

1. Connect with your audience

It’s hard to be relaxed and be yourself when you’re nervous. But when you let your passion for the subject shine through, connecting with your audience is no longer a problem. An occasional smile and maintaining eye contact always helps because it makes you feel like an individual talking to a group of individuals. Make sure that you don’t dim the lights to such an extent that only the slide screen is visible. Your audience needs to see you as well as your slides. If you are enthusiastic and honest, and your presentation is built around what your audience’s requirements, you will get a good response. Don’t over complicate or over simplify things. You also need to remain focused on your audience’s response, and react to that.

2. Convey your message clearly

Before planning a presentation, always ask yourself:

What is the key message for my audience to take away?

And you should be able to communicate that key message very briefly. Some experts recommend a 30-second ‘elevator summary’, write it on the back of a business card, or say it in no more than 15 words. Avoid making the core message flowery as it will lead to reduction in the attention span of your listeners.

3. Take a strong start

The beginning of your presentation is crucial. You need to grab your audience’s attention and hold it. They will give you a few minutes’ grace to engage them, before they start to switch off if you’re dull. So don’t waste that on explaining who you are or what you do. Start by entertaining them.

4. Rules for Slideshows

Guy Kawasaki of Apple has proposed a ’10-20-30 rule’ which suggests that slideshows should:

  • Contain no more than 10 slides;
  • Last no more than 20 minutes; and
  • Use a font size of no less than 30 point.

The last point is particularly important as it stops you from trying to put too much information on one slide. This whole approach avoids the dreaded ‘Death by PowerPoint’. If you need to provide more information, create a bespoke handout and give it out after your presentation.

5. Make it relatable

Human beings are storytellers. Stories catch our attention and help us remember things. If you can use stories in your presentation, your audience is more likely to remain engaged. You can start with a story, but you need your presentation to act like a story too.

6. Let your body do the talking

Visual aids are added to engage the sense of sight along with the sense of sound, which is done with voice modulation. You can use your voice more effectively by varying the speed at which you talk, and emphasizing changes in pitch and tone to help make your voice more interesting and hold your audience’s attention.

Your body language is also crucial in getting your message across. Make sure that you are giving the right messages, avoid crossing arms, hands held behind your back or in your pockets, and pacing the stage. Make your gestures open and confident, and move naturally around.

7. Don’t get too worked up

Words like ‘um,’ ‘ah,’ or ‘you know’ are termed as presentation killers. Instead of using these, pause for a moment and take a short breath in. The pause may seem a bit awkward to you, but the audience will barely notice it. If you can’t think of something to say when an audience member asks you a question, don’t get tense, use statements like, “that’s a really good question,” or “I’m glad you asked me that”. This will buy you a few moments to organize your response. Even if people understand that these are just filler sentences, it still makes the presentation more smooth than ‘um’s’ and ‘ah’s’ littering your answer.

Make sure you have finished speaking before the audience has finished listening.