“Listen up people!” These words may wake you up or make you wince, but when it comes to the opening words of a presentation, you want to get people’s attention. Discussing the art of making a speech, Howard Kosky, CEO of broadcast consultancy markettiers4dc, says: “What you’re hoping for is a reaction. With attention spans dwindling, the importance of cutting out waffle, gimmicks, and transitions, and being direct and answering what the audience wants to know is key.”
As soon as you have the audience looking your way, and ideally anticipating your speech, here are some tips for making sure the rest of your presentation is memorable for the right reasons.
Twelve presentation tips:
From Howard Kosky:
- Have a plan. “Always have a beginning, middle, and end, but whether you want to start at the beginning or perhaps consider the end and reverse engineer is often dependent on the type of presentation and what you want as a behavioural response. But make sure you leave an impression, and a positive one, make sure the audience feels informed enriched and encouraged, knowing you are the expert and why you are presenting.”
- Put on a show. “With speeches, the words can be powerful, but the delivery more so. You are there to promote the words, so think inflection in voice, involve the room, entertain almost, no matter which ‘character’ you are playing, but have confidence in delivery. That way you are believable, and make sure you bring your personality to the fore.”
From Fiona Chow, founder of communications consultancy Goadi:
- Be well-rehearsed. “Occasionally, we all have to wing it, but this should be the exception rather than the norm. Write it, time it, rehearse it and critique it. Repeat. Think of any likely questions and enlist a friend to pick holes in your responses. Film yourself and watch for verbal or physical tics that could distract the audience.”
- Be passionate. “Preparation gets you as close to bulletproof as you can before your performance; then it’s all about style. It’s important to portray confidence without appearing to be arrogant. Showing passion and conviction and, as a result, an absolute mastery of the subject matter, can help convince your audience.”
- Be human. “Only masochists like listening to lectures. Keep your tone conversational, don’t be too self-serving and, where appropriate, inject some humour and personality.”
From Ceris Burns, managing director of communications consultancy Ceris Burns International:
- Be true to yourself. “Craft a speech to mirror the way you talk, avoiding stilted overly-corporate rhetoric. You are not a robot, and you do not need to recite your company’s corporate social responsibility policy verbatim for half an hour.”
- Keep it simple. “Stick to one or two key messages that you want your audience to walk away with in their mind. Have a structure, and factor in rhetoric devices like transition and repetition to keep the flow going. Keep your speech short, and end as strongly as possible.”
- Pump yourself up. “You can’t manufacture charisma, of course, but some suggest there are ways of giving yourself more vigour and magnetism in the crucial few moments before you take to the stage. Motivational speaker Tony Robbins gets himself pumped up before delivering a speech with lots of movement and jumping around – then brings that energy with him as he takes the lime light. Or if all this is sounding a bit too lively, you could try David Cameron’s ‘full bladder’ technique to achieve that urgent-sounding tone, just make sure you’ve given yourself time for the Q&A session!”
From Rachel Cullis Dorsett, director of agency Cartwright Communications
- Don’t overdo the graphics. “PowerPoints and Prezi have their place and can be very valuable visuals to break up the gaze – but a common mistake that many presenters make, is that they look at the PowerPoint and not at the audience as they are talking, leaving your potential clients looking at the back of your head, for much longer than they are looking at your face. How can you ever make a lasting impression when there has been minimal eye contact?”
- Be early. “It sounds an obvious tip, but arrive in good time – never arrive just on time or commit the cardinal sin of being late – and wherever possible check the electrical hardware works before you start, but never ever do this in front of a prospective client. Rehearsing in front of your audience before the show begins does nothing to win you the work and everything to diminish the allure of polish and poise.”
From Xanthe Vaughan Williams, director at agency Fourth Day PR:
- Never say sorry. “If you feel nervous, pause and take a deep breath or two. You can get away with this as long as you don't apologise. Taking a sip of water buys you time and gives you a chance to gather your thoughts – especially useful for those mind-blank moments.”
- Don’t rush. “Don't fear the silence. Any group larger than about 10 people is unlikely to interrupt you or try and communicate mid-presentation. This doesn't mean they don't like what you're saying – best to assume they are just listening carefully!”
So take a deep breath and you are ready to begin. Just remember to smile, but not too much, or everyone will think you’re crazy. Not that that is always a bad thing, at least you’ll be remembered!
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