“I do not object to people looking at their watches when I am speaking. But I strongly object when they start shaking them to make sure they are still going!” –Lord Birkett
OK. You have been working in the company for a few years now and, through hard work and enthusiasm, have risen up the ranks to a responsible middle-management position. You know your job backwards and are confident that you could rise to any challenge.
One day your Chief Executive asks to see you. You know you have kept your nose clean of late so this can only be good news. No doubt he has a job that needs doing and has looked no further than you. A good choice!
He sits you down and, after a little polite chat, he says:
“As you know, our company is looking to develop its services into other sectors and an opportunity has arisen to raise our profile at a national conference. If we can make our name there it could be the best thing that has happened to us in years. I need someone that I can trust to pull this off and I have been keeping an eye on you for some time. I would like you to make a presentation about our company at the conference.”
What would your reaction be? Perhaps:
* I have never spoken in public before
* Everybody will be looking at me!
* I am sure that I will forget what I have to say!
* I may get asked a difficult question!
* What happens if I screw up!
But it does not have to be so frightening. In fact, it can be immensely stimulating and rewarding. There is no other feeling like standing on a platform in front of people, with them hanging on your every word. You can see by their rapt attention that you have them in the palm of your hand. And afterwards they come up to you and say how much they have enjoyed your presentation.
You don’t believe me! Well, read on and believe how even you could PRESENT LIKE A PRO by applying my Ten Ways to WOW Your Audience
Step 1 – Understand Your Audience
“Some speakers electrify their listeners, others only gas them”
The first lesson you must learn is that your presentation must be geared towards your audience’s needs, not yours.
Your audience will respond to your approach, based broadly upon their:
- educational background
- existing knowledge of the subject
- technical expertise
- position within the organisation
- enthusiasm for the subject and event
- expectation of the experience
Ask yourself the following questions:
o How much does my audience already know about the subject?
o What do they expect from me?
o What interests them in the subject area of my presentation?
o What is their likely attitude towards me and my subject?
o Are there any ‘hidden agendas’?
o Is there any internal politics or inter-group tensions I should be aware of?
o What ‘language’ do they speak?
o Do they want to be at the event? Were they pressed to attend?
o What is the age range?
o What is their educational and social background?
o What is their cultural or ethnic background?
o Could religion and/or politics influence their reception to my presentation?
o What positions do they hold in the organisation? Is there a mix of grades present?
o What presentation style are they most likely to relate to?
Step 2 – Set Your Objectives
“Men never plan to be failures; they simply fail to plan to be successful”
William A Ward
The key to planning a powerful presentation is to determine its objectives. Again, these should be largely formed with the audience in mind. For example, they may be to:
* pass on pure information: the results of some recent market research, perhaps
* improve the work performance of members of the audience by imparting new skills or knowledge to them
* change the attitude of the audience towards factors that they have recently faced, or will be facing in the future
* persuade key decision-makers to use a product or service your organisation offers
* introduce new working policies or procedures
* entertain and amuse
Step 3 – Structure Your Presentation
“A speech should be like a lady’s dress: long enough to cover the essentials, but short enough to be interesting”
Have you ever heard anyone complaining that a presentation was too short? No? I bet that you have heard the opposite, though! Your presentation should be structured into three distinct sections:
The opening (5% – 10% of total time) has three main functions:
1. To attract the audience’s attention as a means of starting the presentation on a positive note.
2. To explain the purpose of the presentation
3. To advise the audience of any ground rules
The main body (75% – 85% of total time) should be split into a number of main sections: from three to no more than six. This is where you aim to fulfil your main objectives, be they to pass on information; change attitudes; introduce new concepts; or to entertain.
Each section should be easily identified by the audience as being separate to that which proceeds or follows it. The use of bold visual aids with the title or description of the section (possibly numbered) will assist in differentiating each section.
The conclusion (5% – 10% of total time) is the most important section of the presentation because people tend to remember the last thing they hear.
The four purposes of the conclusion are to:
1. Recap the important points you made in the main body of the presentation – although do not be tempted merely to repeat them at length. Make them short and snappy.
2. Reinforce the main message – which could be the dire consequences of not taking the actions you have proposed.
3. Provide a springboard for action: in other words what you want the members to do after the presentation.
4. End on a high note. Do not let your presentation peter out to a feeble, forgettable end.
Step 4 Practice, Practice, Practice
“When other speakers present, we applaud. But when Demosthenes speaks, we arise and go to war!”
The above quotation refers to Demosthenes, a speaker in ancient Greece, who had a stutter, but who practiced his speeches so much, with pebbles in his mouth to counter his stutter, that he became famous for his passion and eloquence.
Do not try to ‘wing it’ – the only way to guarantee a successful presentation is to practice it until it becomes second nature. Doing so:
o Helps reduce the possibility of nerves on the day
o Improves the delivery of the presentation
o Determines the timing of it
o Allows you to refine the content
o Familiarises you with any aids you will be using
Step 5 – Arrive Early and Check
“There are risks and costs to a programme of action. But they are far less than the long-range risk and costs of comfortable inaction”
J F Kennedy
It is essential that you arrive in plenty of time in advance of your presentation, not least because it will allow you time to gather your thoughts, have a glass of water and a deep breath, and relax before you take the stage. Better still, visit the venue days in advance, thus allowing you to take any necessary actions or amendments to your plans.
The principle reason for arriving early is to check every aspect appertaining to your presentation. You need to check out the:
Step 6 – Control Your Nerves
“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public”
Let’s get one thing straight first: to some degree, everyone has butterflies in the stomach before having to speak to an audience. The key is to have the butterflies flying in formation.
Can you ever remember someone having difficulties when performing or speaking in public? I bet that you felt for him and his discomfort. I bet that you wanted to find some way to help him; to reduce his discomfort. Audiences are not evil; they do not want you to fail. And if things do get a little difficult for you they will want to assist you through it, rather than revel in your discomfort. They will wait patiently; suggest words; tell you that you have missed out a page of notes; or put the transparency on the OHP upside down. After all, it could be them up there having to make the presentation! So put your fears into perspective.
Step 7 – Build Initial Rapport With Your Audience
“A speaker who does not strike oil in ten minutes should stop boring”
You have researched your audience (Step 1) so you know a lot about them. Hence, you have all the information you need to build an immediate rapport with them. One-size-fits-all may apply to socks but it does not apply to audiences. You must understand what their ‘hot buttons’ are and be prepared to press them from the outset. The over-riding objective must be to get them on your side.
Try out these ideas to build an initial rapport:
o Boost their personal egos.
o Stress the importance of their roles, however menial they believe them to be.
o Talk their language.
o Dress the part.
o Establish your credibility.
o Use examples and anecdotes they will relate to.
o Stress that you understand the challenges they face.
Step 8 – Deliver with a Passion
“We communicate with passion – and passion persuades”
Once you have built an initial rapport with your audience, you must maintain it throughout your presentation. People will have come to hear you speak with some preconceptions and expectations. They may initially have been negative but you have worked hard in your initial five to ten minutes to grab the audience’s attention and raise expectations for the remainder of your presentation. It is your job now to meet, or even exceed, their high expectations. You must stand and deliver!
There is nothing more engaging in a speaker than for her to give the impression that she is really enjoying the presentation herself. It may be that she has given that very speech a hundred times but the audience feels and believes that this is the first time and that they are being given special attention. Yes, it is about the professionalism of the delivery, but it is also about the enthusiasm behind the delivery – the passion. Speakers must make their audience believe that they, the speaker, are as interested in, and committed to, the subject as they hope their audience will be.
Step 9 – Tell Them a Story
“Once you get people laughing, they’re listening and you can tell them almost anything” –Herbert Gardner
People have been using stories as a means of passing on information and messages since time began. People would sit around a fire and exchange experiences and these stories would be passed on from generation to generation. People love to hear stories – they hold our interest as they take us from level to level, from incident to incident, building up our curiosity until all is revealed at the ending. Our love of stories begins in early childhood and never leaves us. The camp fire may have been replaced by the bar counter or the dining room table but the fascination remains. Effective speakers understand the power of storytelling and use it to good, even dramatic, effect in their presentations. Stories add variety and can be used to illustrate and emphasise messages.
Step 10 – Use Visual Aids and Props
“Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it”.
Visual aids are used to add interest for your audience, and there is a wide range of such, including:
* Slides (OHP or PowerPoint)
* Slide projectors
* Props, models, jigsaws, Lego pieces etc
* Graphs, charts
Props. Even novice speakers should consider using props as well as visual aids. Props are particularly good at adding interest and humour to a presentation. Here are some props that I and fellow speakers have used to good effect:
o A giant toy telephone to reinforce points about telephone selling.
o Throwing small toy dinosaurs or ostriches into the audience when talking about people’s resistance to change.
o Simple magic tricks.
o Wearing costumes – from complete clown outfits to a simple baseball hat.
o Toy bombs or machine guns to grab the audience’s attention through noise.
o Aerosol sprays to invoke the sense of smell associated with a story, perhaps.
Copyright Alan Cutler 2005
Permission is given for this article to be copied and used in any way so long as it is not changed in any way.