(Part 2 of 2)
Welcome to the second of a two-part series about making the most of your presentations, PowerPoint or otherwise. Here are some more tips.
Fill Your Toolbox
Part 1 of this series discussed using PowerPoint to strengthen your presentation. It’s a great tool. But there are other presentation tools that you can use if circumstances call for them.
•Something to write on. This includes white boards, blackboards, flip charts or any surface you can write on or draw on to illustrate your message. These are especially helpful if you want to include feedback from members of your audience.
•Post-It flip charts. You write on the pages as you talk or get feedback from the audience, then post the pages on the walls around the room to let you or your audience refer back to points made earlier in the presentation. Since they’re made with Post-It adhesive, you don’t damage walls (though you may want to double check on expensive wallpapers).
•A projector. Be sure your projector has the capabilities to show your presentation correctly. Will the projector work in a lighted room? Is its resolution high enough to show your photos or graphics that require high resolution? Computer resolution can be higher than projector resolution, so it could affect the view. Projectors work with software programs other than PowerPoint. If I’m giving a presentation on contact management I don’t need PowerPoint, but I want the audience to see ACT! and Goldmine. The projector allows me to show my computer screen to a larger audience. Some programs even give me highlighter effects so I can pretend to be John Madden.
•A digital remote with a laser pointer. Using a remote with your projector allows you to move away from the laptop and projector. Walk around the room to use the flip chart pages you’ve hung up. Stand beside a member of the audience for their feedback. The laser pointer focuses the audience’s attention.
•Ovation by SeriousMagic. This software takes your PowerPoint presentation and upgrades the graphics automatically. It also includes a teleprompter and timer to improve your presentation. If you do a lot of presentations, it is $100 well spent.
•Practice giving your presentation. Will you be standing at a podium? Do you need to walk around the room? How will you advance the slides? Make your practice as “real life” as you can. You can’t control every aspect of a presentation, but practicing as accurately as you can will eliminate many nasty surprises.
•Visit the location ahead of time. Find out where the light switches are and if you can close the curtains. How will the room be arranged? Do the attendees have tables for note taking? Can you pass around samples?
•Know your equipment. The price of projectors has dropped so dramatically in the last couple of years that it is probably worth it to buy your own projector if you make several presentations a year. If you borrow equipment, schedule time to get familiar with it well before the presentation. I recently sat in a meeting where they lost 20 minutes trying to connect the laptop to the projector. Do you think the audience had a lot of confidence in their expertise in anything after watching that debacle? Not to mention that they had to drop a full third of their message and regain their composure.
•Organize your notes. Since you aren’t reading the words showing on the screen, how are you going to remember what to say? PowerPoint has a Note Page feature that allows you to write out your points in relation to each slide. You can then print the Note Pages. Some projectors even allow you to see the Note Pages while the audience sees the slide only. Be sure there are numbers on your notes to keep them in order. Every speaker has dropped their notes at least once. It’s as sure as the sun rising in the east.
•Make sure you can read your notes. Ovation by SeriousMagic includes a teleprompter feature. Be sure the font size is large enough that you can read it standing up. Do you need to wear your glasses? I’ll never forget the poor man whose helpful assistant had put his presentation into a three-ring binder for him. Regretfully she chose an 8.5-by-9-inch binder! Trying to read that small print while standing beside the projector was impossible. He probably still has a crick in his neck.
•Film yourself. No, I’m not encouraging narcissism, I’m giving you one of the most powerful tools you can use to improve your presentation. You will learn fascinating things about yourself, such as how often you say “um” or repeat yourself. You might not realize that your knee bounces when you really get into your subject, or that those certain earrings flop around your face when you talk!
•Dress professionally but comfortably. Try out the new outfit you bought. You might love what you see—or be embarrassed. If something about the outfit doesn’t work, you can correct it. And you can certainly choose different jewelry. Speaking of a new outfit, sometimes new clothes are not a good idea. It’s harder to appear confident if you just popped the button on your slacks or the new shoes are pinching your toes to distraction. Debut that new look in an easier situation.
•Be careful what you eat and drink before your presentation. Yes, it’s probably safer to skip the taco so it doesn’t end up on your suit. But just as important, beware of foods that can result in hiccups or belches. Choose beverages that moisten your throat without causing it to film so you aren’t coughing or swallowing 10 times a minute. Carry throat lozenges to prevent coughing or losing volume. Speaking to an audience is tough on your voice.
•Know your audience! My PowerPoint presentation is going to be different for an audience of architects versus an audience of manufacturers’ reps. It will certainly be different if the audience is over 60 or under 15. If you have a wide range, you can adjust the presentation to include everyone at some point—but only if you know who is listening.
One of the best features of PowerPoint is that it is so easy to adapt a presentation to fit multiple audiences. Don’t show irrelevant slides; hide them. Rearrange the slides to tailor the presentation to a new audience. One presentation can become an infinite number of presentations if you built a solid presentation to start with.
Remember that your presentation must be written from the audience’s point of view. The point is what they want to know or need to know, not what you want to tell them. Tell the audience why they want to listen to you. Grab their attention by explaining what’s in it for them right at the beginning.
•Take the circumstances into account. If you’re making a presentation at 1 p.m. to an audience that just came back from lunch after a four-hour morning session of PowerPoint presentations, don’t use PowerPoint! Regardless of the value of your presentation or your skill in front of an audience, they are going to be physically and mentally worn down. Change your presentation to help them stay involved. Use other tools. Are they eating while you’re talking? Then give them handouts with the details you want them to have. Even rubber chicken will distract them from the fine points.
Start Professionally and Finish Strongly
•Don’t apologize. Never start your presentation with an apology. If you must apologize for something (starting late, a scratchy throat, a spot on your shirt), save it for the end. The audience will figure out on its own that your voice is not at its best. At the end you can thank them for their patience with your scratchy throat instead of starting off with a negative about yourself.
•Prepare an introduction. Write out your introduction even if it is as simple as “Hi, I’m Bob Smith, managing partner with ABC Company.” The person introducing you may be nervous. Help them get your name right! Include details in the intro that tell the audience why they’re listening to you. For example, “Bob Smith with ABC Company has been an architect for 23 years and has won 47 design awards.”
•Lose the jokes. Jokes aren’t required if you aren’t a stand-up comedian. If you aren’t positive that the joke will be a big hit, don’t tell it. Many of us can’t tell a joke well, especially if we’re nervous in front of a crowd. Sometimes the joke we like offends someone else. It’s OK in your presentation to state a different opinion, but giving a different opinion as a joke can often backfire. However, featuring anecdotes or telling a story to illustrate your point helps the audience remember your message.
•Enlist third-party credibility. Use links to Web sites, portions of other people’s presentations, graphics, videos and so forth to increase your credibility. I’ll listen if you tell me the typical cost per square foot for a school is $X, but you’ll get more credibility if you show me a scan of a report from a national education publication.
•Summarize your key points for the audience to help them tie all of the bits and pieces together. Restate the most important concept or idea you want them to walk away with. Emphasize again what’s in it for them.
•Include contact information in case anyone has follow-up questions. Someone may be too shy to ask their question during the presentation or they may be so impressed with your knowledge that they want to schedule you for another audience.
•Thank your audience! Out of the 30 million presentations given today, they took the time to listen to you. Let them know you appreciate their time.