Business presentations carry hidden traps that, with adequate preparation, can be anticipated and overcome. The good news is that, unlike many business situations that demand public speaking, such as interviews, meetings and networking, a formal presentation allows you complete control and plenty of time to prepare. But it also carries the most responsibility and the highest expectations. You’re not only responsible for setting the tone for the presentation, but you’re expected to be an expert on the subject.
The biggest presentation challenges demand that you refine your message and exude a professional presence. Use these prep tips to create a winning presentation.
Know Your Three-Ideas Limit
The urge to overstuff a presentation is strong. After all, you have to prove that you’re the expert, right? To avoid overstuffing, strive to sum up the reason for your presentation in one short sentence — a phrase I refer to as a “bumper sticker.” It’s a short sentence or phrase that’s the 40,000-foot view summing up your overall message. You probably have lots of great ideas and information about your topic. They all inform your understanding of your bumper sticker. However, one of the most important steps in your presentation prep is trimming down your presentation to the three most important ideas that brought you to your overall bumper sticker. Three ideas in any one sitting is pretty much everyone’s limit.
Start your presentation prep by standing up and speaking out loud the reason why you’re giving this presentation. Using your bumper sticker will guarantee a strong start. Speaking these words out loud will help to connect you to your true perspective on the topic. This is the elusive “being right” part that many people miss. Your point of view is undeniable. Own it. You need to repeat this process a minimum of 10 times until the memory of the connection between the ideas is no longer just in your head, but in your body too. Don’t make the mistake of spending all of your time just thinking about what you’re going to say; actually speak it out loud.
Control the Focus
Consider how you will focus your audience’s attention in regard to scale. I don’t simply mean the size of the projection screen, but also the size of your audience and the space in which you’re presenting. Make sure your initial gestures are appropriate to the scale. Don’t shrink away from drawing attention. Accept the responsibility of being more important to the presentation than your slides.
Become a Master of the Pause
Everyone occasionally needs a moment to regroup and even possibly retrace and revisit their ideas while presenting. Pausing is an extremely effective tool to utilize for many reasons. When executed in a deliberate and controlled manner, the break can have the effect of grabbing people’s attention as they anticipate what will come next. Whether they realize it or not, pausing gives your listeners an opportunity to process what you’ve just said. Pausing gives you room to integrate a new thought as it occurs to you. This seems to fly in the face of the common perception that you shouldn’t ever stop — or even slow down your pace — for fear of losing your audience. Interestingly, the body language message of pausing sends a signal to your listeners that you are truly thinking about what you’re about to say next.
If you decide that a Powerpoint will be a part of your presentation, use the slides to their fullest. Avoid overusing the phrase, “What we have on our next slide…” This sends the message that your presentation is just an exercise in looking at projected images. And never read the slide word-for-word. Even though the slides reflect your work and perspective, your listeners need to hear the concepts directly from you to allow for the best comprehension. Create anticipation by speaking about either the challenge that the information on the next slide will magically solve, or state a rhetorical question that your next slide will clearly answer. By building anticipation, you instruct your audience to look at the slides as an overview. Compel them to look back at you for an explanation or clarification of why the information is important.
Clarity of thought and diligent, spoken preparation are the best presentation prep skills. Recognize the challenges and avoid the traps in every presentation opportunity. Don’t keep repeating the same mistakes