It’s a well-worn cliché that the brain never stops working, until the moment you stand up to make a presentation. Yes, they can be nerve-wracking things to do but like anything else you can learn to make good, even great, presentations. Think positive!
First of all, why are you making this presentation? Yes, it might be because the boss has told you to do it, but what is the actual objective? What do you want the audience to know or do after your presentation. The answer to this question will help you identify all the facts, theories, figures, stories, etc. that might be helpful to that objective. Make a list. Do some research. Ask other people; in fact, ask your audience what they would like to know. In this way, you can gather more than enough material.
Next, consider your audience. What will work for them? What will engage them, convince them? Relevant factors may be their jobs, age, background, level of education, ambitions, opinions, interests and so on. This will help you decide what material to keep and what to cut out and also what sort of presentation they might appreciate. For example, do they need something short and blunt (because they are busy and/or have short attention spans) or do they need lots of supporting facts and figures (because they will have to present this information to others afterwards)?
How will you structure your material? You will need a beginning, a middle and an end. Remember, it’s all about reinforcing your message:
- tell them what you’re going to tell them
- tell them;
- tell them what you told them.
Within the middle section, which contains all the key points, you should break the information down into sections and then put those sections into a logical order.
As for the introduction, well you only have one chance to make that first impression so it’s worth spending some time on this. A useful principle to bear in mind is A, B, C or in other words: grab their Attention, tell them the Benefits of listening, and show them your Credentials (i.e. what qualifies you to speak on this particular topic.)
What about visual aids: flipcharts, handouts, PowerPoint, videos, etc? Well, it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words and it’s also true that however beautiful your voice, people will sooner or later become tired of listening to it. So give them something to look at; but make sure it’s relevant.
OK, you have your presentation written and ready, now what? Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse! Practise it in front of the mirror (speaking out loud) and in front of family or friends. This will help you sound more natural on the day, and will help you test your material and the timing.
Finally, two thoughts to help you think positive:
- nobody wants to sit through a bad presentation so your audience actually want you to succeed; and
- nerves are natural and good; in order to have the butterflies, you have to have the stomach.