I’ve been presenting all my life. The first time someone said do a presentation, I was so nervous that the words came out with a stutter, the structure of my speech was a mess, there was no confidence and the audience seemed to be hissing and booing. Sometimes they still do that, yet presenting has kind of become what I do.
The thing that is most important in presentations is that you are telling a story. You have to weave a message and bear in mind that people usually only remember three things you said. This is why you have to focus on the message you are trying to convey and how to convey it best.
Equally, when reading presentational books, the main thing that stayed with me is:
Say what you’re going to say, say it, say what you said
So all the way through, you have to remember the message you’re trying to convey, convey it, then summarise what you conveyed. It is key to telling a story.
Another thing that stayed with me is presenting, many years ago, my story was how much I knew about the industry. Giving lots of stats and facts, it was a typical analytical presentation of what was taking place, and how things were in the state of the industry at that time. Reading through the feedback forms, one person made a specific statement after rating my presentation as 1 out of 10. Their comment? Tell me something I don’t know. Ever since I’ve been dedicated to what’s next, rather than what is or what was.
Focus your speech on what’s next, not what was.
Specifically, don’t read. The most boring speeches are those that are scripted and delivered with lots of bullet-point slides or, even worse, slides that show the speech you are reading. When people read to the audience, they lose engagement as there’s no eye contact or passion. It ends up often being a dispassionate speech that loses most people’s interests, as they could read the script themselves later if they wanted.
Don’t read to the audience.
Thing is that, if you’re not reading, then how do you remember what you’re going to say? It’s often difficult to convey a speech that you’re not reading. I remember years ago that there would be no way I could speak without a script. But this is why slides are needed. The presentation slides can help to have a flow to say what you are going to say, say it, and say what you said. In other words, the key to using slides is to keep your focus and flow, as well as informing the audience.
Use slides to help you build the story.
Building upon this, a thing that stayed with me is working for a company with non-English speakers. Years ago, my boss, who was Swedish, criticised me for presenting with lots of bullet points and words. She said: “I cannot read these words, show me pictures”. Ever since, my presentations rarely have words – they have eye candy.
A picture tells a 1,000 words.
A similar point is engagement. If you are talking to a crowd of people, don’t speak as though it’s a room of strangers. Think of them as your friends. Imagine they’re all naked, someone once said to me. I don’t quite think of it that way – that’s a bit pervy – but I do imagine that I’m in a room of people who like me, want to hear what I have to say and are open to my message. It’s like being at a dinner party. They’re all my friends.
The audience is your friend.
The thing is, when you talk to friends, they expect you to reveal a bit about you. You are not completely confidential with friends. You talk a bit about your life and your life experiences. You talk a bit about your learnings and things to consider. You open up a bit about who you are and what you’re about. It’s subjective, not objective. It’s personal, not neutral.
You also need to entertain the audience. Think of yourself as being with your friends at a dinner party, and you would rarely focus upon just talking about politics and fashion. You would often talk about these things with humour. Being humorous is a great way to engage the audience – your friends – and build rapport but, equally, remember that something you find funny may not be funny to someone else. Similarly, what is funny in one country may be an insult in another, so use humour carefully but do use it. It’s a great way to get your friends, the audience, on your side.
In all of this however, is that you need to be animated. You need to show that you’re presenting something you feel strongly about. You need passion. Don’t just read, as mentioned earlier but, even if you are reading, be passionate.
Speaking at a conference years ago, I was super-hyped. I knew my message, had the pictures, was focused on the future, and hell, did I give it a good pump. Afterwards, a colleague came over and said: “you seemed too hyped up there today”. I asked why and his comment was that I was talking about ten words a second, so fast no one could keep up. This is particulary awkward when you are speaking at an international conference, with a lot of non-native English speakers.
Speak as you would to someone who doesn’t speak your language.
On that note, I regularly rant about TLAs , the use of Three Letter Acronyms.TLAs are a great way to confuse people and add complexity. Nobody wants to hear a complex speech, so remember to keep it simple, stupid (KISS).
Speak in words your parents and grandparents can understand.
I could go on and on – this blog is already way longer than I expected – and thought these points might be useful to share. You can buy books about how to do presentations, but don’t buy books. Start doing them! And I guess that’s the final point. Practice, practice, practice. The more you present, the better you get.
Practice makes perfect.