Learn the top strategies, tactics, and tools to equip you with the skills and confidence needed to deliver a presentation that carries true impact.
Approach your presentation from a storytelling perspective.
Develop a strong opening that grabs the attention of your audience
Knowing how to make a stellar presentation is important in any role, and even more so when you own your own business and are making a pitch or presenting information to a client. Organizing your information and supporting it with visuals can make all the difference in your audience understanding the topic. Being a good presenter can also impress your client and establish you as a subject matter expert in your field.
In this guide, you will learn how to
Prepare for your presentation
About the Presentation:
- What is the objective of the presentation?
- Do you need to build your knowledge to deliver the presentation? If so, how will you do this? (e.g. consult with SMEs, research authoritative sources)
- How and where will you deliver the presentation? (e.g. web meeting, client conference room)
About your Audience:
- Who is your audience?
- What actions do you want your audience to take?
- How much does your audience already know?
- What information does your audience need and/or want to know about your subject matter?
- What’s in it for them?
- What are their objections, concerns, and interests?
TELLING YOUR STORY
Approach your presentation from a storytelling perspective. Stories are a powerful communication tool that engage your audience and create a memorable experience.
A storyboard is a visual tool that helps you craft the story you want to tell and plan the sequence. You can use mind mapping tools, whiteboards, pen and paper, or even Post-it notes. This process applies if you are using presentation slides, an old-fashioned flip chart, or no tools at all.
The process, not the tool, is the critical element. Storyboarding allows you to create draft after draft, which is difficult if you attempt to write the content within the presentation tool. It can also be effectively used when collaborating on presentations.
Storyboards are helpful tools to organize your thoughts.
Now that you have brainstormed ideas and crafted your story elements, you will want to begin to develop your presentation. There are four critical elements in your content preparation.
1. Attention-Grabbing Opener
Develop a strong opening that grabs the attention of your audience. A question, gesture, personal experience, or a startling fact or statistic can all be grabbers. The grabber is designed to immediately get your audience interested in the presentation.
Example Attention Grabbers:
a. The independent workforce will be 47 million strong in the next five years.
b. This may be the first generation of children that does not outlive its parents
2. Make Just Three or Four Key points
Studies on memory and information processing demonstrate that we only remember 3-4 things at a time1 . We also tend to chunk information into groups that have 3-4 items in them. By sticking to three key points, you avoid overwhelming your audience with information that will quickly be forgotten. Steve Jobs applied this rule of three by dividing every presentation into three parts.
3. Focus on Your Audience’s Need
As you develop your content, it is imperative to keep the focus on your audience. Align your content to their needs. Anchor your presentation in what your audience needs to know rather than your need to speak.
Your close, or conclusion, should logically tie back to the points you made in your introduction. Re-state your thesis and summarize your main message. End with a concluding statement or call to action (CTA). Tell your audience what you want them to do next, whether it is engaging your services or volunteering for community organizations.
THE RULE OF FUN: The most important, yet often overlooked, rule of presentation development for an independent professional is the Rule of Fun. Are people going to enjoy your work? Are they going to feel engaged? A presentation can be both serious and fun. The best presentations balance both goals using words, pictures, and audio/video to create a background for you, the presenter, to bring it to life.
Design your visuals
A poorly designed presentation dilutes your message. Slide presentations that overdo it on animation or have cluttered, busy slides are difficult to read, distracting your audience from the key points. Common presentation errors often result from an over-reliance on the message delivery system rather than the message. Presentation tools such as PowerPoint, Keynote, and Prezi, and Canva are designed to support your presentation rather than be the focus.
- Try to stick to a simple color scheme (no more than 1 focus color and 2-3 accent colors).
- Use words sparingly—use them to accent your key points, not to serve as a written record of what you’ve said.
- Wherever possible, avoid use of clip art!
- Hire a presentation graphic designer
TEXT AND TYPOGRAPHY
When it comes to text in your presentation, less is more. Remember the rule about simplicity: you want each slide to convey a short and simple message. If you are going to use bullet points in your presentation, keep them crisp, consistent, and focused. Experts suggest following a 4 x 4 formula: four lines down, four words across. Or, if your subject warrants it, you can go up to 6 x 4 (six lines down, four words across). Make sure that your text is readable. Using a 30 point font or larger is recommended.
How long should your presentation be? Presenters differ in their approach.
The 20-20 rule suggests that you have 20 slides each lasting exactly 20 seconds. This rule forces you to be clear and concise without losing your audience.
Bestselling author Guy Kawasaki advises following the 10-20-30 rule. This rule states that your presentation have no more than 10 slides, last no longer than 20 minutes and have no text less than a 30-point font. Kawasaki believes that even if you are presenting an idea that will transform the world, you need to spell out the important points in a few minutes with just a few slides and a few words.
Both rules reinforce the principle of using your slides as a reference rather than as a script. Keep in mind that some presentations will require more than 10 or 20 slides; that’s not always a bad strategy, but you must keep the slides short and pointed. Keep the focus on the audience and edit for their needs so your presentation is properly tailored.
Visual slides will help tell your story with few or no words. Steve Jobs used photographs and images rather than text. For the unveiling of the Macbook Air, he used a slide of the computer inside a manila interoffice envelope. The visual had high impact and told the story in an effective way without words. Visuals can also accompany text to reinforce the story. If animation helps you to tell the story, it can be a powerful tool. However, always be thoughtful when using animation such as slide builds and transitions. Too many can tire your audience.
EVERYTHING IN MODERATION
- Avoid overcrowding of text or images
- Think of slides as secondary support to your talking points
- Add white space to make concepts stand out
- Use animation when it makes sense, but don’t overdo it
STORYTELLING WITH A TEMPLATE
If you are using slides, presentation templates can be helpful in the design phase. However, it is important to first craft the story you want to tell and then choose the best vehicle to tell that story.
Beginning with a template can force you to fit your story into a pre-defined model that may not be the best way to engage your audience. A presentation template can also help you achieve a consistent visual theme. Rather than sticking to the stock background templates, you can design your own to use in all of your presentations.
IN LIVING COLOR
Colors evoke emotion and can support the tone and message of your presentation. Studies have shown that audience members react differently to certain colors. For example, black promotes authority and strength, while blue conveys reliability and trustworthiness. Red excites people, prompting them to be more innovative and take more risks. Orange demonstrates a combination of confidence and playfulness.
Always avoid busy patterns, as they are a distraction to your audience. The use of color also impacts the visibility of your presentation. Blue, green, and other “cool” colors work best for backgrounds, while “warm” colors such as red or orange work best for foregrounds. A dark background, such as grey or dark blue, with white or light text works well if you are presenting in a dark room. If presenting in a room with the lights on, a white background with black or dark text will work best.
Use the color wheel to drive your choice of color combination. The more a color contrasts with colors around it, the more visible the color will appear, such as black text on a white background. However, make sure the colors work for the presentation, as some contrasting colors—such as red on a purple background—are not ideal for text and background combinations.
Deliver your presentation
When watching a presidential debate or high-profile awards ceremony, one can see the many differences in people’s presentational styles. You’ll find that there are many elements to a successful presentation. Your body language and voice are key storytelling tools. Like any professional performer, rehearsals are an important element to success. Rehearse your delivery to ensure your body language and voice work harmoniously to support your message and achieve your outcome.
MANAGE YOUR PRESENTATIONAL VOICE
Your voice plays an important role in your presentation. You want to project your voice so that your audience can hear you. Consciously slow down your speech and clearly enunciate. Add pauses to emphasize your points, and give the audience time to reflect and think. Remember, that pause feels much longer to you than it does to your audience.
Speak with passion and conviction about your subject. In every presentation, you want to create an emotional connection with your audience, even if it is an audience of one, which leads them to action. Your enthusiasm will move your audience and bring your words to life. Voice is even more important in the modern presentation, where we often deliver in digital formats without seeing our audience.
EYE CONTACT IS ESSENTIAL
In a live presentation, use your eyes to engage your audience, and maintain consistent eye contact. A good rule of thumb is to look straight into the eyes of an audience member for three seconds at a time.
Before your presentation, try to meet a few of the audience members. These can be your “friendly faces” in the crowd that allow you to feel more comfortable when speaking. Make eye contact with several people in the audience and periodically glance at the whole audience while you are speaking. If you’re nervous about making eye contact, look at the audience member’s forehead; they won’t be able to tell!
While body language is important, you do not want to plan gestures. You want to convey sincerity, and a planned gesture can look false because it may not match your other involuntary body cues. That being said, using gestures sparingly helps engage the audience in your speech: the key is not to overthink it.
There may be times when you are at a loss for words. You have a brain blip and cannot come up with the words. Relax; it happens to even the most practiced presenters. Rather than saying “um” or “ah,” take a breath. You may have a bottle of water at the front of the room with you, and taking a sip can give you a few seconds to collect your thoughts.
While the pause may seem awkward to you, the audience will barely notice. If you are presented with a question and need a few moments to gather yourself, you can use statements like, “that’s a great question,” or “I’m so glad you asked that.” You can also restate the question. These filler sentences often provide just enough time for you to organize your thoughts so that you can respond. It also avoids filing the space with “um” or “ah.”
It sounds hokey, but it works. If you find yourself getting nervous and flustered, picture the audience in their underwear. If that sounds strange to you, try visualizing someone you know in the front row wearing a chicken suit—it’s practically guaranteed to calm your nerves!
After the presentation, you may have the opportunity to meet with some of the audience members. This time is also important to promote your consultancy, and can be used to network and form relationships. Answer as many questions as you can, and be sure to hand out your contact information.
A presentation is your time to shine. You have an opportunity to advance yourself, your ideas and your consultancy. Make the most of your moment in the spotlight by delivering a professional and poised presentation.
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