Presenting 101

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010 , , , , , 3 comments

The term ’101′, as our American counterparts are well aware, has come to mean ‘basic’. A 101 class is a basic class: the first lesson you need in a given topic. So, in our Presenting 101 class, we address the first changes a presenter can make to begin delivering more effective presentations. It can be daunting for presenters looking to improve, as there are so many different techniques and theories available. Here we have provided 10 tips for beginners and more experienced presenters alike, outlining where presenters should begin when they want to improve at presenting.

1   Set objectives

The first lesson of Presenting 101 is the most important. There is no point in spending all that time and effort preparing for a presentation, if you have no idea what you want the end result to be. What do you want your audience to do at the end of the presentation? What do you want them to think? Why are you delivering this presentation?

The objectives may not be as straightforward as you think. The answer in a sales presentation is not always ‘to make a sale’. Depending on the stage of the cycle, the answer could be to persuade your audience that your product or service provides them with real value – and perhaps stressing that it delivers far better value than that of any competitors.

2.  Are you Selling or Telling?

Identify whether your ultimate aim is to sell, or to inform. Each aim should be approached differently, and uses different techniques to maximise effectiveness. Using a ‘selling’ presentation doesn’t have to mean actually making a sale – you could be persuading a financial backer to invest in your new product, for example. Determine which one it is that you’re focusing on, and use this as the basis for everything you prepare for your presentation.

Sometimes, a presentation is required to do both. This, however, can be extremely difficult for the presenter, both in delivery and in producing the message. In this case, the content should ideally be split into two presentations, to be delivered by two different people. Ultimately, presenters should just make sure that they are answering the ‘why’ question all the time, and tailoring their content to their goal.

3.  Audience’s objectives as well

Any presentation should be beneficial for both parties. Remember, your audience doesn’t have to listen to you. Understanding their problems and needs will help you identify how you can tailor your content so that both you and your audience feel satisfied.

Your audience should find your presentation useful, whether because they have signed a new business contract; received some really useful information; or whatever else you offer them. Your audience don’t care what you want; you should care about what they want.

4. Appropriate Media

Don’t necessarily assume you are going to use PowerPoint; and whatever you do, don’t start your presentation by opening the program and typing in your notes. Think about what message you are delivering and who you are delivering it to. Is slideware suitable? Visual aids and slideware may be impractical for a best man’s speech or a politician. Yet in a business presentation about finances, effective visual aids can really help to aid your audience’s understanding and engagement. Whatever your decision, ensure that everything you are doing will make your presentation more engaging and memorable for the audience. Visual aids should help your audience, and not hinder them.

5.  If Yes, What do want them to recall?

If you want your audience to remember your presentations, slideware could make a big difference. Studies have shown that when information is shown via dual channels, information absorption can be more than tripled. Using visual techniques at key points in your messaging can really aid your audience’s comprehension and recall of an argument.

So what do you want them to recall? Use diagrams, pictures and animations to stress these points, helping the audience to focus their attention on these, and to remember them. Slideware such as PowerPoint allows presenters to combine a variety of visual techniques, to ensure that visual aids have the biggest possible impact.

6.  Relevant content

Showing something interesting but irrelevant will engage some of your audience, but not all of them. Showing them something relevant and interesting will have your entire audience enthralled.

People like to talk about themselves, or listen to other people talk about themselves. They don’t care about you. They care about what you can offer them, or how you can entertain them, or about what they can get out of the presentation. Don’t talk about what you find interesting: talk about what they will find interesting! Relevant content is the key to keeping your audience’s attention, and to persuading them of your views.

7.  Get Interactive

How long do you have to get your main points across before your audience start to tune out? The human attention span isn’t quite what you think it is. The actual time varies from person to person, and is dependant on a range of factors, from age and gender to tiredness and room temperature. The average attention span for an adult audience is 20-25 minutes. The implications for presenters are serious, with many presentations being an hour long or more. If your audience tune out before you are a third of the way through your presentation, how much of your content are they going to be able to recall?

It is important therefore to take this into consideration when planning a presentation, and to ensure that you do not lose your audience halfway. If your presentation is going to be longer than 20 minutes, plan a soft break, which could be a puzzle; a question; or a brief group activity. The key thing is to get your audience thinking or acting. This ensures that your audience stay alert and engaged with your content, and gives them a chance to regroup their attention before listening to your next twenty minutes of presenting.

8.  Once written; Practise, Practise, Practise

Content vs. delivery: an age-old debate, akin to nature vs. nurture. Many presenters meet their downfall by fine-tuning their content, only to realise that they have no idea how to deliver it. Practising makes a huge difference to the quality of delivery. Make sure you know your presentation well, and deliver it the whole way through 2 or 3 times before a presentation. If you can’t express your powerful messages in an engaging and memorable way, what is the point of labouring over them?

9.  Solicit feedback

The best way to improve at presenting is to identify what you do well, and what you could do better. Taping yourself and watching it back, or asking friends for their opinions, frequently proves useful. Don’t, however, ask someone within your company, as they will rarely be entirely impartial.

But how do you really know what your audience thought of your presentation? Ask them. Anonymous questions will provide you with a wealth of useful information. Use these pointers to perfect your content and delivery for the next presentation.

10.  Follow up

The final lesson of Presenting 101 is to make sure your presentation is remembered. Unfortunately, humans forget around 75% of what they have learnt within 24 hours of learning it. This has huge implications for any presenter – why spend all that time on a presentation, when most of it will be forgotten in a day? Don’t worry though – this statistic can be dramatically reduced if the information is reintroduced periodically. In presenter’s terms, this means follow up.

Of course, the follow up is the most obvious step after a sales presentation, but it can be beneficial in other situations too. If you have internal training, gather your employees for five minutes the following day to recap the main points from yesterday’s presentation. Do the same again a week later; a month later; even a year later. You will see a massive increase in audience recall.

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The Ultimate Guide to Sales Presentations

3 Comments to Presenting 101

  1. #1

    David Turner

    2:43 pm, August 19th, 2010

    I think the principle content was very good but the speaker’s voice was not smooth enough to help mne focus on the content. I found myself listening to her speech patterns and pronounciation rather than the message. However the content would be a useful thing for our senior management to hear before they produce Clichéd ppt #1157.

  2. #2

    TJ Walker

    4:41 pm, October 9th, 2010

    Great points. I would add that it is critical to practice on video numerous times and to repeat until you like what you see.

  3. #3

    Jessica Pyne

    2:07 pm, October 11th, 2010

    Thanks, TJ. And yes, practising on video is also a great way of preparing for a presentation – you’d be surprised the things you notice when watching yourself that you’d never have picked up on otherwise!