When watching somebody present in front of an audience, it takes just a few seconds to determine if this is going to be a compelling and interesting presentation or a boring waste of time. But once you’re standing in the spotlight yourself, it is up to you to make a difference. And here’s how to:
- Prepare: It sounds simple, but the most common mistake is lousy preparation. Enter the stage only if you know precisely what you want to say and how you’re going to say it. What’s the purpose of my presentation? In an ideal world, what would be different after you leave the stage? What’s the main point? What’s the final result? What’s the one thought or sentence that each person should remember a week later? Special point: What’s the first sentence you will say? The beginning is the most crucial moment of your whole presentation. With your first sentence, you win or lose your audience.
- Imagine: If you were to listen to your presentation, how would you feel on your seat? What would grab your attention? Looking at your presentation, where do you think it gets boring or unclear? Where are turns your flow of thoughts is taking that might be illogical or confusing from a viewer’s perspective? Eliminate anything that does not support your main message line and only distracts from your presentation’s purpose. One thought must lead to the other. Don’t jump between topics, arguments and points.
- Entertain: Never miss to add entertaining elements into the presentation. Might be surprising imagery, might be a contradiction that awakens tired listeners, might be a climax or a sudden pause – whatever it is, prepare it. And: Only use metaphors, quotes, figures and images that really support your thoughts. All you say and offer – including funny or stunning elements – must contribute to your presentation’s purpose.
- Be clear: Not only in your thoughts, but also with your voice. Make sure that everything you say is understood – and that you only say what is worth being understood. Use simple language. Say short sentences. Speak clearly, loud and self-confident. Make pauses. Change tonality. Be interesting and entertaining.
- Respect: Most usually, your audience consists of human beings. Respect their freedom to listen, follow, ask and have own thoughts on your topic. (This applies especially to Q&A sessions after your presentation.) On the other hand, assume that the audience is neutral at the beginning and that you only have to turn their attitude into the “positive-area”. If you’re sure that your audience is hostile from the start, a shared presentation with one or two other presenters might be a good idea.
- Look at details: Choose the appropriate clothing, according to the setting of the presentation. Have a final look at a small mirror before entering the room. And gentlemen, check your tie, your jacket, and your trouser fly.
- Practice: For a person who has a great fear of presenting, all of the above points are real challenges. So start with talking in front of 2 or 3 people, like family or friends and prepare a 5-minute presentation on a simple, non-controversial topic. Proceed to longer and more complex topics – and more difficult audiences.
And finally, after all the preparation: Enjoy it. If you really hate speaking in front of other people, simply don’t do it. The audience will notice if you don’t want to speak to them. There’s nothing more painful than watching a person who obviously would prefer to be at home instead of talking to others. (Oh yes, there is something more painful: Being such a person.) But there’s nothing more convincing than a person who is convinced herself – and dares to show it.