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Roscoe Tanner once said, “The brain is a wonderful thing, it’s starts working even before the moment that we take our first breath and only stops, the moment when we get up to speak in public”.Others have said, that when giving a eulogy speech at a funeral, most people would actually prefer being inside the box, than stand up and give the speech in front of others.

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According to the Boston Globe, the top ten fears, that Americans have a dread of are, and i would guess that these fears are pretty much universal :1. Public speaking2. Snakes3. Confined spaces4. Heights5. Spiders6. Tunnels and bridges7. Crowds8. Public transportation (especially airplanes)9. Storms10. Water (as in swimming and drowning)Source: Face Your Fears Today (www.faceyourfearstoday.com)So people would prefer being attacked by a snake at 3 000 Meters over the Atlantic Ocean in a confined, crowded plane than getting up and speaking in public.It sounds crazy and totally unreasonable doesn’t it? But we often see people acting slightly crazy and a bit unreasonable when they give presentations in front of an audience at work.The problem is one of extremes; extremes of stress that becomes unmanageable and leaves, ordinarily logical and intelligent people as quivering wrecks in front of an audience, but we are very often our own worst enemies.bearheadoffAnd there are many reasons for this, a lot concerned with bad preparation, poor analysis of the situation and, to a certain degree, a preoccupation with perfectionism.Stress can be a great motivator – can you imagine someone doing a presentation with zero stress? It can be a very boring and painful experience.The same can be said for a presentation where the speaker is suffering from an overload of stress – the key is to be able to channel and manage stress levels as the effects on the image portrayed, on the body language and on the vocal quality can be devastating.I’d like, in this post, to look at my Top 10 tips for Effective Presentations, tips that are integrated into the coaching that I do face-to-face and at distance with my clients to help them not to become good presenters, but to get them to the stage of excellent presenters, both in French and in English, as a first or as a second language.

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TOP TEN PRESENTER’S TIPS

1. Prepare well, but do not over-prepare

When you are getting ready for a presentation, it is not an effective strategy to have your presentation learnt off by heart, as it often comes across like this and it is not something that audiences like. They want to feel that you are presenting to them, as if it were the first time. You can also be easily wrong-footed if questions are asked, if (heavens forbid) the computer / Powerpoint / Keynote or the projector breaks down temporarily, if latecomers interrupt your flow or if people butt in and ask questions. All of these can and do happen so be prepared for this. Use Post-its or cue cards with the main ideas or, if you are into visuals, try MindMapping the presentation.

2. Be enthusiastic – start strong and maintain the energy

Enthusiasm is probably one of the most difficult things in this world to resist – we can’t help being caught up in the wave of someone else’s passion and enthusiasm. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for you subject through your body language, your face -smile, and your voice. Use dynamic action verbs when speaking – “Let me walk you through …” sounds so much more lively than, “Let me tell you about ….”. There is nothing more annoying than a presentation that starts out, “Good morning, my name is Fred and I’m going to present xyz to you”. Do not state the obvious – everyone in the room knows that they are in a presentation, don’t then reiterate that you are going to present xyz they know what you are going to do! start strong, a question, a surprising fact, a “war story” gets the attention of the audience. Instead of “I’m going to present to you the reasons that email stresses us” prefer something that pushes emotional buttons and gets people sitting up and paying attention; “Who, in this room, is stressed by their emails?” – if you also put your hand up as you ask the question, you will encourage others to do likewise.

3. Do not read what is on your slides

As tempting as it may be, this is a surefire way of getting an audience off to sleep in record time. If you look too often at the screen AND read what is written on your slides, your audience will quickly get bored and start playing with their Blackberries – they will not be listening to you as they will have read the slide before you get to the end of it. In a way, you are being slightly patronizing to your audience, they will not like this and they will repay you in kind by drifting off, yawning or fidgeting, which could have a devastating effect on your confidence. The audience will, rightly or wrongly, assume that you do not know your presentation or that you are poorly prepared – either way it will not make you look good. At the end of the day, if you are going to read off what is written on the slides – send the Powerpoint to each member of the audience and don’t hassle them by inviting them to your presentation.

4. Get audience participation

Where possible, get the audience involved and implicated in your presentation. You could do this by asking for a show of hands, asking questions to the audience or sharing questions that are posed back to the audience. Never forget also that the audience is actually on your side, even if some audiences appear rather hostile. The audience has a certain sense of empathy with you and they will in 9 cases out of 10 will your success – simply because they can sympathize with you – there for the grace of god go I! Remember too that in terms of memory retention, people remember more of what they actually did, than what they read or heard so if you can marry audience interaction with your words and your slides, then the audience will remember a lot more of what you said due, in part, to the impact that you had on them.

5. Signpost effectively

When I talk about signposting, I am including many things here, but mainly it is about getting structure into your presentation and telling the audience where you are taking them. Imagine that you have a presentation scheduled for 11 o’clock in the morning. What do you think will be one of the main things on the mind of your audience? Exactly, hope I’m not going to be late for lunch. At the end of the day it is a similar things – home-time, picking the kids up, going to the gym, shopping, dinner etc. You must allay these very basic fears – tell them how long you are going to be speaking for, this way you have a fighting chance of retaining their attention all the way through your presentation. Manage transitions between slides and subjects effectively and dynamically – think of your presentation as a walk in the woods with your audience, use dynamic movement verbs – “let’s look at this subject (this tree) – now moving on to this (tree) and to go back to (the other tree) etc.” When using this type of language you are almost compelled to move your body as you project a new slide or demonstrate a diagram on Powerpoint which adds to your presence and dynamism. Keep in mind thr
ee steps for your presentation: Tell them what you are going to tell them (how long and when they can ask questions) – Tell them – Tell them what you told them.

6. Avoid “Death by Powerpoint”!

There are few things more distracting than overcrowded, over-animated technicolour slides with multitudes of images and different type fonts of different sizes on slides. A good rule of thumb is to use one Type font and not to overly vary the size and never put more on a slide than you could print on a tee shirt! If you need to put lots of information on a slide, think about how manageable that information is for your audience – there is also the fact that whilst they are reading your slides, they are not listening to you (two receptive skills at the same time is difficult to manage). Think about summarising key points and then giving handouts. If you do give handouts – don’t give them before or during the presentation if you can help it – again people will be reading while you are casting seed onto the desert floor during your speech. Do not keep a slide up for too long – use the ‘B’ button to black the slide or insert a white, plain slide into your Powerpoint, while you talk, keeping a slide projected for an extended length of time is again confusing and boring for the audience – you don’t want either!

7. Make good eye-contact

The thing about giving presentations is that there a lot of things happening at the same time. The audience is either initially for or against you and your subject from the outset – there are a lot of à priori here that need to be surmounted. Maintaining good eye-contact is a very important aspect in the credibility building that you engage in when in front of an audience. Keeping eye contact over an extended period of time can be uncomfortable for the audience, as it is a sign of aggression – when faced with aggression, humans have two options (OK 3 but here we’ll look at two) – Fight or Flight and most people in an audience will choose flight, that is they will naturally shy away from direct and sustained eye contact with you. Diffused eye-contact says something else about you in terms of the audience’s perceptions – that you are either uninterested in them, not someone worthy of their trust or that you do not want to connect with them – it also looks very strange. Some presentations trainers, will talk about “looking just above the heads of the last row of the audience”, something that actors use in the theater, and which works very effectively in the theater. I will stick my neck out here and say DO NOT do this as it is not only a bit bizarre from the point of view of the audience but also a bit spooky.

8. Never finish a presentation with questions from the audience

Now this may sound a bit strange, especially as you may be hard-wired to mention in your presentation signposting, “I will be more than happy to answer questions at the end of my presentation”. This is strictly true but we are just accommodating for any pitfalls that might arise during a Q & A session at the end of a presentation. As humans, we often go away from events such as a presentation or a training session with a very fresh impression of the course / presentation that was formed towards the end of the event. You want your audience to go away from your presentation with the most positive feeling as possible – so manage it. You are going to do the Q&A session at the end, but you must ensure that you have the last words and that you maintain control all the way through the presentation. If you leave questions right to the end what often happens is that the presenter meekly thanks the audience for their attention / participation / not killing me as they gingerly shuffle their papers – they go out from what could have been an excellent presentation, in a whimper. Another point is that if things turn nasty and questions become difficult or the audience is not fully satisfied with the answers you provide, they will go away with a bitter taste in their mouth and your credibility will be very low with them. Do not do yourself a disservice and let this happen – after answering the questions you have your final say – a short reminder that links back to your opening statement for example: “If you go away from here and you do nothing, nothing will change – this is a golden opportunity for YOU to change things with the use of email in your company and reduce your own stress – thank you, goodbye”. This “call to action” will be remembered longer than the sticky questions that you endured and you have effectively raised energy levels and rounded off, coherently, your presentation.

9. Manage your stress so it doesn’t manage you

Learn techniques to manage your stress levels – use breathing, stretching and voice warm-ups or techniques borrowed from NLP or elsewhere such as positive visualisation or anchoring to help prepare yourself for the success that will undoubtably come post presentation – focus on positive and not negative outcomes and treat each presentation as a learning event – especially for learning about oneself. There is no universal recipe, explore and find out what works for you. Most of all be yourself but manage stress.

10. Manage questions effectively

There is nothing worse for an audience than Q&A sessions that end up as a dialogue between a presenter and a confident or vociferous member of the audience. This can be both uninteresting for the rest of the room and alienating. When asked a question follow this simple process:Thank the questioner, then rephrase the question for the rest of the audience, maintaining eye-contact with as many of the audience as possible, not only the person who asked the question. Then you have a number of options: You can attempt to answer the question directly, or you can throw the question open to the audience, you could refer the questioner to an expert, who can answer the question at a later date or if the question is too long to be handled immediately, offer to answer the question at the end of the presentation with the person who asked the question. When you have decided which is the most appropriate course of action for the question, ask the person who asked it if it was a satisfactory answer. Always be courteous, polite , gracious, professional and accommodating.This represents just some of the aspects that are important in developing your presentation skills – there are many more tips and golden rules that can help you rise to the top of your field concerning your presentations.If you would like more information on how we can help you with your presentation skills in English or in French then please contact : cc@active-consultants.com for further information or an informal chat –

Welcome to your future!

2 Comments

  1. Simon

    Hard to argue with any of those! :)

    Something I often tell my clients, which relates to your first point is to differentiate between rehearsing and practicing… both are forms of preparation but they’re not the same. The latter is only one part of the former… that way you stay fresh as well as get yourself prepared.

    Reply

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