Know your audience. This is true for any type of communication. Who will listen to your presentation? What is their general knowledge of the subject? Answering those two questions will significantly alter the content you include and how you will present it.
Define your objective. What do you want to say? You should be able to formulate your objective into a concise statement that is free from ambiguity. Write your statement down. If it takes you more than one sentence it’s too long and needs to be reshaped. Is your objective single focused? You will confuse your audience if you try to include more than one subject. You can have several supporting points but that’s different than multiple subjects.
Structure your presentation in a logical format. If you want people to remember what you present you have to organize your material so that it flows naturally. Each supporting point should lead to the next until all points have been made. Although it’s a device that might be a bit overdone, some people use acronyms for their key points: P-lan, R-esearch, E-ngage, S-imple, E-voke, N-arrative, T-imely. Others use alliteration—where each point either rhymes or starts with the same letter. If those tools work without being forced they help people remember the key points.
Anticipate questions and objections. This is especially critical if you are trying to persuade a group to adopt a new plan of action. As you anticipate objections, gather supporting information that will diffuse their objections and strengthen your case. This can be done with authoritative quotes, facts, statistics, examples and testimonials.
Tell stories. Watch an audience as they listen to a speech or lecture. As soon as the speaker begins to tell a story the entire audience tunes in. Stories are much easier to follow and remember. Often stories are what people remember most. Make sure your stories clearly connect with the points you want to make and you have a powerful combination. Resist the temptation to throw in a story simply because it is a good one but has little to do with your subject matter. Save that for a different presentation.
Use clear and simple illustrations. A few key points on a slide with interesting graphics will enhance the message you are trying to convey. Don’t settle for cheesy clip art unless it truly illustrates your point. A single photo that captures the essence of you point will make your presentation look more professional. You can find plenty of royalty-free photos at www.istockphotos.com for a small fee.
Don’t annoy your listeners with silly animations in PowerPoint. PowerPoint or Apple’s Keynote are great presentation tools and can help convey your message. They contain all kinds of options for animations which may work in some situations depending on the tone of your presentation and your audience. But more often than not when text and graphics fly or bounce across the screen with goofy sounds it makes your look like an amateur. Be professional and choose animations and transitions wisely. Less is more and some times none is best.
Don’t read your slides. That insults your audience and causes them to think, “Why didn’t he just send this to me? I can read.” Use your slides to trigger key thoughts. Simple bullet points should evoke a sense of curiosity. Give just enough information so your audience understands the key point but hold back a bit so you can expound on the point while you have them in the room.
Be dynamic in your delivery. Maintain good eye contact, use good posture and effective gestures. It’s not just the content that moves an audience. It’s also the presenter. If you deliver your message with passion you will excite your listeners and motivate them or sell them on your proposal. Just make sure your content is as solid as your delivery because eventually an audience will catch on that your speech was entertaining but devoid of a point.
Stick to your time allotment. If you’ve been given 20 minutes, don’t go over. If you anticipate questions, factor that into your time allotment. If your listeners have an agenda in front of them that includes the time allotment you have been given, you can be certain they will be checking their watches to see when you go over. If you reach the end and the moderator wants to extent your time for more questions, at least you are not responsible for being off plan.
Finally, practice your presentation. Go through it enough times so your delivery is smooth. As an audience member, there’s nothing worse than listening to someone stumble through a presentation filled with “umm, ahh, you know, like uh, like uh…” and other such verbal fillers. Tripping over your words or searching for the right expression tells the audience that either you weren’t fully prepared or you don’t know your material. Either way you will diminish the impact your presentation could make.
Whatever line of work you are in or even if you are a student, presentations are a fact of life and you can advance your career or improve your grade on the strength of your presentations.