You might live for presentations or dread them, but everyone can improve their effectiveness and make them a far more enjoyable experience - for you as well as your audience.
Here are a few pointers that we've picked up over the years
Facing Death at Bullet Point
How many PowerPoint presentations have you endured? How many presentation agendas have you vainly scanned in the hope of finding something interesting? How often have you watched the back of a presenter’s head as he doggedly repeats bullet points you could have read yourself? ...more>
Avoid the Extra Click
If only there were time to rehearse every presentation. For a start you'd know how many bullets there were on each screen. If you've experienced that dangling in mid-air feeling as the screen flicks unexpectedly to the next topic, here's a simple cure. ...more>
Far too many presentation courses try to turn you into some idealised zombie. Your stance has to conform to some notional ideal, your little idiosyncrosies have to disappear, and as for that accent... Maybe you should forget the whole thing and book Anna Ford. Or a robot.
We've never understood the thinking behind this. Jonathan Ross and Melvyn Bragg have both proved that a speech problem is no barrier. Watch Dr Carl Chinn present one of his lectures on Birmingham history and you'll see him make every mistake in the presenter's book. And you'll be absolutely riveted. While scratching your bum isn't to be encouraged (not that the revered Dr Chinn does this you understand), there's nothing wrong with being human. The trick is to find an aspect of your own personality that you can work with to make yourself a good presenter.
You wouldn't go for a run without a few muscle stretches first. But you'll often walk in front of an audience and expect to speak at twice your normal volume without a similar vocal loosen-up. Wherever possible, try to find somewhere private - your car is an ideal spot - five minutes before you start. Run through your opening lines a few times, starting fairly quietly and slowly raising the volume. Don't end up shouting: if you feel any stress on your throat you're pushing too hard. What you're aiming for is a strong, clear tone that still sounds like your natural voice.
Your presenting voice should be pitched slightly below your normal speaking tone, and a little slower than your conversational rate. This helps you to bring the abdominal muscles into play and places less stress on the vocal chords. It's also easier to listen to.
We all prepare differently. Some of us script our presentations meticulously, while some will prepare headings on hint cards. Others are confident enough to wing it. None of these is wrong. But a presentation, almost by definition, is created to be heard, not written down.
So you need to hear it first. This is particularly important if you like to work from a script. Listen to yourself carefully, and watch out for phrases that feel unnatural or that you repeatedly stumble over. If it's hard to say or it sounds false, that's what your audience will hear. When it all sounds natural and relaxed, you'll feel vastly more confident.
This is a great opportunity to time your presentation, but bear in mind that it'll usually stretch by 10-20% on the day. If you're working to a strict timeslot and it only just fits in, think about what you can leave out.
Here's the end of most presentations: "Well, that's about all I've got to say, does anyone have any questions?"
It's our view that question time should be the penultimate item in your presentation, not the final piece. That way, when the questions run out (and sometimes they don't even start!), you're not left with a lame "thank you" as the lasting impression you give. Have a final call to action or resolution ready and gather everything together with something like: "No more questions? OK, thank you. (Change of voice) Ladies and Gentlemen I think we can see clearly the decision to be made here. We've seen .... ...so let's make an agreement with ourselves today. Let's decide to... " As you deliver your final statement, step back slightly and raise your hands to around waist level. You'll pluck a round of applause that'll leave you feeling ten feet tall.
Anybody remember Sunday Night at the London Palladium?
The format was the same every week. We'd sit through the bouncy thumb-waving host, endure the mother-in-law jokes from the end-of-the-pier comedian; we'd even survive the dog act and the bloke who juggled with kitchen implements because, right at the end, the Beatles would turn up.
That was 1963. Nowadays we make presentations this way.
Here's a typical agenda:
Our Range of Services
What This Means to You
See the Beatles? They're there at number six. Before that there's going to be a lot of barking and possibly some knife-throwing.
How about doing something different? Let's start by throwing the agenda away altogether. All it's doing is making your presentation look very, very long and very, very boring. Instead let's open with number six: this is a presentation, not a variety show. How much more interested is your audience going to be when you open with a statement like "I'd like to show you how we propose to drive a million pounds a year out of your supply chain costs. Here's how we'll do it"?
I can hear the howls of protest. "But our customers want to know who they're dealing with!".
Yes, but they need to decide to deal with you first, then they'll get interested in who you are. Think about putting your corporate credentials behind a hidden button or hot key so that you can call them up at any moment. In the majority of case you'll get a comment like "This is all very interesting, but can you tell us a bit about your company?". Now they're ready to listen because they've asked you for the information. You bring up the relevant screens immediately (looking pretty slick in the process!) and give them all that good stuff that came out of the preamble. When they're sufficiently impressed, you simply resume your thread.
Believe us, it works.