The experience of sitting through a truly terrible presentation is nearly universal. The dozens of identically-themed PowerPoint slides stacked with text, the useless handouts, the tense, miserable minutes of silence during the time allotted for Q&A–presentations rarely energize a team or allow the speaker to fully display the depth of their knowledge.
Most people have attended one of these monstrosities and, whether anyone would willingly admit it or not, quite a few of us have likely also given one of these anemic performances.
So how can you ensure you never find yourself flailing while packed room blinks back at you?
Focus On Your Audience — And Tell Them The Truth
Asher recommends eye contact–the kind you’d give to someone in a one-on-one conversation–as a way to convey measured energy and attention throughout your presentation.
“Most people in business don’t make the kind of eye contact that they think they’re making, says Asher. “The kind of eye contact I’m talking about is the eye contact you make when you’re having dinner with a close friend and talking about something you care about.”
“Half As Long Is Twice As Good”
Brevity isn’t just “the soul of wit,” it’s what’s going ensure that your audience’s attention span makes it to the finish line at the same time your presentation wraps up–not before.
“Ask yourself, ‘If I can only remember three things, what must I remember?'” says Asher. “Boil it down to three six-word bumperstickers. Build the message around those three.”
Turn Your Anxiety Into An Advantage
Roam says that learning to harness our nerves can be the key to gauging how ready we are to give a presentation. A few butterflies are a natural reminder that we’re doing something stressful, whereas overwhelming fear and stress could be a red flag that we haven’t done enough to prepare.
The remedy, says Roam, is to practice, as much as possible, in an environment as similar to the one in which you’ll be speaking as is feasible. And don’t worry if you don’t have a photographic memory–reciting your talk is a great way to appear stiff, and should you get derailed it makes recovery that much tougher.
Bring PowerPoint Into Present Day
Keep your audience alert with clean slides that bear no more than one “headline” idea, one piece of text in support (or none at all) and one image. Typing the entire transcript of your remarks into slides is the fastest way to lose your listeners.
Say It With Pictures
“If I’m continually providing your eye with something interesting to look at, and if I can keep it moving, I can keep your mind occupied for hours,” says Roam.
To maximize that interest, vary your images among photographs that speak to your ideas; diagrams, maps, or charts that support factual information; and, if you feel capable, hand drawings.
Don’t Condemn Q & A To Ten Minutes At The End
“People should build their presentations around Q&A,” says Asher. “Rather than talking for 20 minutes and having your last slide say, ‘Any questions?‘ you should invite people to jump in and ask questions at any time. It should be a conversation back and forth.”
By keeping your presentation short and devoting equal time to questions, says Asher, you can “really connect with what the audience’s true needs are.”