I just finished reading a great book called “How to Deliver a TED Talk: Secrets of the World’s Most Inspiring Presentation” by Jeremey Donovan. It was a quick, helpful read full of great real-life examples and stories. A how-to book that wasn’t the least bit boring.
The title caught my eye because I’ve done my share of public speaking to audiences large and small, as well as professional presentations with a business objective. I’m good at it, but one can always improve, and I definitely learned from Mr. Donovan’s observations about what makes the best of the TED speakers best. I recommend the book to anyone who speaks on behalf of their business or organization.
Reading this book also reminded me that I once created this list of tips for professional presentations to share with my team. I hope you find something that helps you prepare for your next presentation.
CREATING YOUR PRESENTATION
Before you even open up a blank presentation and start working, you need to tackle these four things.
Know your audience
If you didn’t invite the audience or call the meeting yourself, ask the host for specific information about who will be there. You need to know:
- Are they lateral (on your level/position)?
- Is it a mixed group?
- Are they decision-makers? Influencers?
- Are they affected but not in a position to make a decision?
All of these things will affect how the audience will respond to what you say.
Think like your audience
Make sure you write your presentation from the audience’s perspective, not yours. You’ll gain trust right away by demonstrating that you understand them. Trust is essential.
- What do they already know about the subject or project?
- Do they care? If they don’t, why should they?
- Do they have preconceived ideas about the subject?
- Did they hear something about it from the office grapevine?
Determine your primary objective
Know what you want the outcome to be before you start, and structure your presentation or argument to build toward that. If they need to act, make sure they know that by the end.
- Is it to share information?
- Is it to change opinions?
- Is it to get people to agree to your plan?
- Do you need them to act?
Consider the environment
How will people feel when they listen to you and where will the presentation be given? This is a critical part of your presentation and while it is unlikely to be in your control, you should know about it so you can adjust accordingly.
- Will the audiene read an advance copy? (Avoid that if you can; offer to write a one-page summary memo if materials are needed in advance)
- Have they seen other presentations? (Go last if you can.)
- Do they have good sight lines?
- Can they hear you?
- Are they bored, tired, hungry, too hot, too cold?
You’ll need to adjust your presentation to fit the environment. Keeping your text short, flexible, and somewhat vague helps with this – you can decide to elaborate or not depending on your read of the room. (I once experienced a board member jutting his jaw up and down as I belabored a point as if to say “we got it Jen, move on.” I will not ever forget that.)
Or, consider humor or a game to break up the monotony. One of my favorite examples of using humor was a complicated software implementation presentation I was giving to a leadership team. They were never going to use the software themselves, but they needed to understand why we were implementing it, and they needed to make some policy decisions so we could proceed with the implementation.
So right in the middle I inserted a slide with all their photos and a thought bubble that said “Okay, Jen. We like your charts and graphs just fine. Why are you making us listen to this?”
They laughed like crazy (one vice president literally woke up; I kid you not) and it was the perfect setup for what I needed them to do — agree to my plan and act on it.
GIVING YOUR PRESENTATION
Your slides are perfect. Your argument sound. Your graphics engaging and use of humor perfectly tuned to your organization’s culture. Now all you have to do is give it. Here are some tips for presenting like the professional you are.
- Own your content. You are the expert. Project that by standing just to the side of your screen, even slightly in front of it. They’ll have to look at you that way.
- Try to avoid sitting around a table while you present. If you do, your audience will likely stare at the screen the whole time you’re talking, even if there’s only one word on it.
- Arrive early and set up your presentation and run through it. Make sure everything works. Don’t let the technology distract people from you. Use a remote to advance.
- Don’t read the screen! Your slides are your outline, there just to remind you of what you plan to say next.
WHAT MAKES A POWERPOINT GOOD
PowerPoint is at once beloved and beleaguered, but I think PowerPoint is either “good” or “bad” depending on the person using it. It can work for you, but you have to know what you are doing. These are some of my design rules and guidelines.
- Design and write to meet your objective (don’t get distracted).
- Use a mix of text, images, and charts to guard against monotony.
- A slide with just one image is a great slide.
- Text should be as short as possible. Aim for no more than 6 words.
- Titles should be two or three words, max.
- Titles, text areas, and images should not appear to fly around as you advance the slides. Use the “size and position” controls to make sure they are in the same place every time.
- If you use photos, make sure they are of the same size, shape, and quality, or do some design tricks to make it appear that way.
- If you are discussing numbers or money, find a way to graphically represent it, sometimes putting text into a chart helps too.
- There’s a time and a place for clip art. If it works for your audience and objective, it can adds some humor.
- Make sure the text is not too big – it appears to scream at your audience. (Remember it will be projected so it will look way bigger than it appears while you’re working on it on your desktop.)
- Use font, bold, icon, color, or other cues to help your audience understand what they are seeing.
- Use animation only when necessary and then only use the simple “appear” – all other animations are gratuitous.
- If your presentation requires your audience to change their minds, agree to your plan, or act on something, create an outline slide at the beginning that foreshadows what you need. That way they are more likely to pay attention.
- A closing slide on “next steps” or “what’s a VP to do?” is a good idea if you need them to do something. If you are just sharing information, you don’t need a close.
- I personally don’t like “thank you!” slides at the end of presentations. Just say it.
Did this give you one new idea? If you have a great tip to add, please share it in the comments.