Karen’s Top Ten Presentation Tips

There have been a number of articles, posts, and blogs etc. recently providing guidance on how to give a good presentation. This has spurred me to complete this blog, which has been in the ‘in-progress’ file for some time! It is also timely given that this year, 2012, I am travelling the globe more than ever and presenting at numerous conferences – many as a keynote speaker. Having been speaking at conferences and seminars since the late 90’s and being awarded ‘best speaker’ at the itSMF Australia conference back in 2005, I hope I have something to offer when it comes to advice on achieving a successful presentation.

So here are my top ten tips.

1. Know your subject. When deciding on the topic of your presentation make sure you are comfortable with the subject matter and the material. Speak about what you know and your experience. Presenting can be a daunting experience for many people and this will only be compounded if you choose to speak on a topic that you do not know well. The chances are that the audience will ask questions and if you do not know your subject well, this will soon become obvious.

2. Know your audience. Find out who your audience is so that you can tailor your presentation to match their needs. For example if you are speaking about a service management topic find out if your audience has experience of service management or is it a totally new concept for them. Determine whether your audience is primarily comprised of senior management or practitioners. Your presentation should be pitched at the right level and with the right level of detail that aligns with the requirements of your audience. One size does not fit all so even if you have a great presentation you may have to customise it each time you present depending on the composition of the audience.

3. Structure. Careful thought needs to go into the structure of the presentation. A guide that I follow which you may have heard of is simple but effective.

  • Tell your audience what you’re going to tell them.
  • Tell them.
  • Then tell them what you told them.

There is nothing wrong with repetition. It is good to tell the audience what you are about to tell them so that they are engaged and know what to expect. After you have delivered your message – which is the core of your presentation – you can then summarise the key points from your presentation and provide the audience with some key takeaways. You may also want to include a ‘call to action’, which could be a call for the audience to change their thinking, use some of your ideas back in the work place, buy a product or service or follow-up the presentation with further reading etc.

4. Death by PowerPoint. We have all suffered from death by PowerPoint. There is nothing worse than endless slides with lots of detail that the presenter reads from verbatim. Your slides are there to support your message and not vice versa. Some of the best presentations I have experienced are those without slides or where the slides are minimalistic. Often pictures are more powerful than words so use illustrations and graphics wherever possible instead of text.

5. Preparation. There is no shortcut. The more preparation you put in, the better your presentation will be. This does not only include the preparation of your material and content but also rehearsing your delivery. Practice makes perfect as they say. The more you practice the presentation the more chance you will have of being successful. You will ensure that your presentation runs for the allotted time remembering to leave time for your audience to ask questions if that is a requirement of the hosts. You will uncover parts of the presentation that do not flow as intended will which allow you to make changes accordingly.  The more you rehearse, the more confidence you will have when you actually deliver. Practice alone until you think you are ready and then get someone else to watch your presentation. Choose someone whom you know will give you honest feedback.

6. Notes. If you can, deliver your presentation without having to refer to notes. This will be the result of lots of practice and preparation. If you do feel that you need notes, use ‘cue cards’ rather than pages of notes just to give you reminders of key points and messages you want to make. You may be able to use a ‘presenter view’ on the computer or laptop that is running the presentation but you will need to do some reconnaissance before hand. See Tip #7. The venue / room layout may be such that you cannot see the computer / laptop from where you need to stand in order to deliver your presentation.

7. Reconnaissance. Check out the venue / room in which you are to deliver the presentation beforehand. Firstly you want to check that everything is in working order. If your slides are already loaded onto a venue computer / laptop, check that they are working as intended e.g. transitions, animations etc. If you are using your own computer / laptop, make sure that it integrates with the venue technology e.g. connectivity. If you have video or audio in your presentation, make sure that this is also working. In essence you don’t want any surprises once you have started your delivery. Don’t be afraid to ask the supporting technicians or host to let you check all this out. I have been caught out on a number of occasions in the past where I have been assured that all is working only to discover midway through the presentation that my video clip wont play or there is no audio link. This reconnaissance also lets you assess the venue / room layout. Is there a stage? Will you need a lapel microphone? If there isn’t a lapel microphone does this mean you will have to stand behind a lectern and use the fixed microphone? Can you present without standing between the presentation screen and the audience? This 5 or 10 minutes of inspection could be the saving of the day.

8. Engage. A great way to start your presentation is to engage the audience. If you are in a foreign city or country make some comment about your experience there e.g. how much you like the place or it is an honour to be invited to speak in a city / country which you have always wanted to visit. If you are delivering to a particular organisation do some homework and find out more about that organisation so that you can personalise some of the content of your presentation. Language can be critical when trying to engage the audience. Use phrases like ‘what I would like to share with you today’ rather than ‘ what I am going to tell you today’.

9. Value-add. Give the audience some added value. I always make sure that on my last slide I provide contact details for myself such as email address and mobile phone number, website details. Facebook page address, Twitter address etc. This allows the audience to contact you later if they want more information or to ask questions. Where possible provide an article or white paper related to your presentation that the audience can takeaway or download later. If not already provided, inform the audience where they can obtain a copy of your presentation.

10. Follow-up. After you have delivered your presentation solicit feedback from audience members and the host. If there is an evaluation of your presentation ask for a copy. If the presentation was recorded as audio or video, obtain a copy of the recording and listen / watch your performance. Identify the strengths and weakness so can you can build on the strengths and remove the weaknesses. This is all in preparation for your next presentation, which will be better than the last.

There are many other good sources of advice on giving presentations and if you are starting out for the first time in this area I would recommend checking out the raft of information available on the internet. Garr Reynolds has a good site with some sound advice and guidance. http://www.garrreynolds.com/Presentation/

The most important piece of advice of course is……….’remember to breathe’.







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