Let’s get right to it: you’ve agreed to do a presentation or speech and, like 75% of all people who experience some degree of anxiety or nervousness when public speaking, the idea of formally addressing a group of people is daunting. You want to educate or inform (if you lack purpose, that would be problematic), but how do you turn your knowledge or interesting material into a professional presentation?
A successful presentation is transformational. It takes the audience on a journey and, by the conclusion, it leaves them with passion or reverence for the topic and/or speaker. To persuade or captivate your message must be relevant to your audience’s lives or dreams, fears or schemes.
Human beings are biologically wired to listen to stories; an engaging narrative has a beginning, middle and end. Start with the end result in mind. What do you want each person to think, feel, or to do after listening to you? Can you embed an “aha!” message that changes a listener’s perception, behavior, or knowledge base?
- Don’t “write a speech”
Break down your presentation into elements: facts/stories/lessons learned, etc. Devote one, three or five minutes to each element. Prepare an outline and, if you want, a few graphic slides – one per speech element. Use the slides as a transition trigger to introduce your next idea, which keeps you focused and on schedule. Practice 10 times and you’ll be set to give up to an hour speech without any notes at all — and perhaps even gain enough confidence to dump the PowerPoint!
- Open with a question or story
Forget definitions or statistics (yawn), and jokes better be funny to everybody. Better yet, start with a quick story the audience will relate to, or a motivational question. Example: “If you could eliminate most or all of your credit card debt this year, what could that mean for your quality of life next year?” Invite the audience to pause a moment to fully consider that question.
- No reading allowed
Nothing kills a speech quicker than reading it – off a verbatim script, off notecards or off slides. Look at the cue slide (a graphic slide, not text!) and practice telling or explaining your key element. Use cue slides to illustrate, not to inform (that’s the job of the verbal presentation).
- Don’t sneak your notes onto slides
The use of bullet points doesn’t negate the “no reading notes” rule. If you MUST put words on a slide, don’t put more than seven key words on it unless you are quoting someone (with source). This will help prevent you from reading a slide — which the audience disdains. A 30-point font (or larger) should be used for text for room-wide visibility.
- Avoid sales messages, humble-brag, and taking credit for others’ work
A huge no-no (and a common mistake) is marketing your company or self during a presentation. Focus on results or information rather than sales pitches or self-congratulatory messages. You don’t need your logo on every slide. Be sure your facts and sources are correct or some expert in the audience will call you on it.
- Edit. Edit. Edit.
When taking your audience on your journey, remember that not everyone wants to know where you stopped for gas. Have you shared enough details to describe the scenery without cluttering up the view with unimportant trivia? Use metaphors and/or personal, human language to connect with the audience. Avoid intellectual language which actually will distance you from the audience. Yeah, you’re smart – that’s why you were asked to speak. Now your job is to make the audience feel smart, too, by not talking down to them from a lofty verbal platform. Be clear and concise and “real” to connect to them.
- Model passion for your topic
Project energy. Incorporate movement, but not frenetic pacing. Step out from behind the podium and speak from the heart, which conveys confidence and knowledge. Mentally divide the group into thirds, like a baseball diamond, and make sure you make eye contact with someone in each section several times over the course of your speech. In that way, present your material to one person at a time, not 100. It will help settle your nerves and keep the audience interested.
- You get what you inspect, not what you expect
Test audio and video equipment and laptop. Bring an extra thumb drive. Ask folks to turn off cell phones by turning yours off as an example.
Educate, entertain, influence — and then enjoy the great evaluations!