We normally think of presentations as something very formal and corporate. However, our first rule about presentations is that they have to be relevant. Depending on your audience, goals, and environment, you may want to consider any possible means of delivery including non-verbal, experiential, or co-created presentations such as a tour (I've done Agile presentations as a tour of physical facility for a co-located company with walls covered with agile artifacts - product backlogs, tasks, sprint goal posters, burndown charts - those who are involved in agile delivery framework will understand what exactly I am talking about) or an experience (a "marshmallow challenge" is a great presentation of team dynamics and team-building tools).
However, in most cases we use specific conventional tools for presentations - from MS PowerPoint to Keynote to Prezi. No matter which tools we use, the rules remain the same. There are many books about running successful presentations, but in this blog, I will summarize 7 "presentation non-negotiables". While you can alter your presentations, the rules below are "a must":
1. Define the topic and the goal/objectives. Every presentation starts with a clear goal: why am I doing it and what outcome I want to achieve? This does not depend on your topic. If I want to talk about a topic, do I want to help participants understand the context, learn about the topic itself, introduce my own original view, or argue with an accepted point of view? What is my specific set of objectives: do I want to establish myself as an authority in the field or demonstrate that I am an experienced speaker, am I using this venue to build partnerships, or is it a sales pitch?
Frequent mistakes. As common sense as it is, most of presentation mistakes happen in this area. If it is a sales pitch to a client, then the client may not be interested in you sharing the industry overview, they want to hear your offering and pricing. If you want to establish yourself as a speaker, it has to be entertaining and engaging as much as it is informative. If it is educational, it can't be overly complex, no matter how deep your expertise is. These are just some of the mistakes inexperienced presenters frequently make.
Solution. There is an easy way to resolve this: before you start working on the presentation: start by identifying your goal and define three take-aways you want participants to take away from your presentation. If you want to sell a product, you may want your audience to be
2. Addressing presentation to your target audience. As common sense as it may sounds, presenters frequently fail to "put themselves in their listeners' shoes."
Frequent mistakes. I've heard many sales pitches which started with explaining my area of expertise to me. Initially, I found it amusing. Then, I realized that for sales people who are doing the pitch, it is a new area so they start their presentation with basics not realizing that I leave and breathe this topic every day. Their inability to understand my needs as a customer is a significant red flag for me.
Solution. I am going to offer two easy solutions. Create a catchy and informative title for your presentation that reflects your user needs, and build the presentation around the title. Feel free to user questions or dilemmas as titles if you know that this question is of concern to your audience. How do you know what is of concern? The answer is easy: use a survey. Your listeners may enjoy pre-presentation survey if it is brief, easy to access, and provides an opportunity to share their opinions. Online tools such as surveymonkey or google forms will make it easy for you and for your prospective listeners.
3. Mode of delivery. Your way of presenting material is the key to your success or failure. This includes everything: are you noticeably nervous? are you in loss for words? Are you too loud or so quiet that listeners have a touch experience listening? are you dressed too formally or too informally depending on the environment? are you naturally engaging or confusing or boring?
Frequent mistakes. We've heard too many presentation which sound interesting but it is hard to get through the personality of the presenter who reads the slides with multiple bullet points, cannot express their thoughts, repeats the same statement multiple times, and provides excessive amount of details. I recall a large conference where one of the speakers presented his company's case study for a new tool they adopted recently. It was a cutting edge tool at that time and their experience was remarkable, but the speaker was very nervous, did not look at his audience, did not pronounce his statements clearly, and while the content was interesting, everyone felt similarly uncomfortable listening to his presentation. He was a senior director with a large company, so the disconnect between his role, expertise, and his level of discomfort as a presenter was striking.
Solution. There is only one solution to this problem: practice. Some people need to practice 10 times, and for some 2-3 times is sufficient. When we practice, we do not just memorize our statements, we think, modify, update, and target our message. I normally have three phases of practicing my presentations: talk it through, rehearse in front a mirror, and then with my colleagues asking for their feedback.
4. Presentation quality. Presentational aspect of presentations is very important. There are many good books on presentation patterns: when to select a specific pattern and how t o customize it. When detailed bullets may be possible for an internal office presentation where details are important, more than five bullet points will look too busy on your conference presentation.
Frequent mistakes. One of the most frequent mistakes of inexperienced presenters is a presentation deck that does not look good: excessive amount of details and related bullets and small script, or misaligned colors, inconsistent font or style.
Solution. Consult a professional or your colleague(s) before sending our your deck and incorporate their feedback on consistency of fonts and colors, quality of images, and its verbiage. In addition to that, never forget your original goal for the presentation, and target your presentation accordingly without cluttering it with secondary information.
5. Clear message. Once you are clear on your objectives and the target audience, it is time to reflect this clarify in your presentation. Do you overcomplicate it or overload with text and images. Use very few slides, so that you have 1-3 minutes per slide minimum. Keep the original objective and 3 take-aways from the first non-negotiable in mind and leave the slides that support this objective only within the deck.
Frequent mistakes. I've heard so many exciting and engaging presentations when I was not able to recall what it was about next day. These presentations were overloaded with great information which I was not able to parse because the message was not clear to me.
Solution: For any presentation, simlicity and clarity is they key. There are several ways of providing simple and powerful messages: images, music, quotes - use them. Be very clear in your intentions - you can even start or end your presentation with your goals and expected take-aways.
6. Impactful Message that resonates with your audience and makes them think.The goal of any presentation is to make impact on the listeners and make them agree with the opinion or suggestions of the presenter, or validate it. However, presenters who are passionate about their topic are frequently too didactic or controlling when they share their message. Either they preach to their audience or treat them as if the presenter is an expert and the audience is new to the topic.
Frequent mistakes. There are two absolute worst things you can do as a presenter. The first one is to think that you are better (more knowledgeable, better prepared, or more advanced) than your audience. If you look down at your audience, you lose them before you even start. The second mistake is to preach and tell rather than co-create and collaborate. Your audience members are listening to your presentation because the topic or you as a speaker are interesting to them, so all you can do is to show them the nest
Solution: Involve your audience. Ask questions during your presentation where they can respond describing your rxperience, do online surveys, use tools such as polleverywhere, kahoot,com or socrative. Listed to what your audience has to say and pivot accordingly.
7. Follow up. Even if you follow the advice above in full, you won't succeed if you do not follow up. At least, there is a reason you are doing this presentation.
Frequent mistakes. I've seen outstanding presentations and did not end anything. Just a conference-level presentation on the topic, and no next steps, no collaboration, no learning. How to avoid that?
Solution: agree with the audience on method of follow up and provide contact information. This is not trivial: the goal of presentation is presentation itself. Is it right? No, of course this is wrong. Once we are clear on this role, let's start providing objective-driven expectations. Do you expect your listeners to get in touch with you? Provide your contact information. Was it a sales pitch? Define next steps (any additional information or follow ups). Was it at a conference? Get feedback and discuss which is the next conference you are going to as a speakers, and once you do all of this, put action items on your calendar to take care of these follow up items and keep your team updated.
I have no doubt you have your own "non-negotiables" you'd like to add to the list. Most importantly of all, this has to be a genuine message which you are excited about and believe in.
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