Whether you’re delivering it to a small conference room crowd
or a giant annual meeting auditorium, if you hope to transform
your speech into a vehicle for climbing the corporate ladder,
you’ll need a presentation that’s dressed to impress. Here are
seven practical tips to help you build one:
1. DESIGN WITH THE END IN MIND
Although it seems obvious, the end of your presentation isn’t
the end of the learning process. The real learning occurs when
participants go back to the office and try to apply the information they’ve taken from your talk.
It’s natural to focus on what you hope participants will take
away from your presentation. To make it truly effective, however, you need to design your session and select your content
with the long term in mind, envisioning participants’ thoughts,
feelings and actions weeks after your talk. The start of good
presentation design still involves selecting outcomes and still
requires beginning with the end in mind. The best presenters
realize, however, that the end is really just the beginning.
2. PUT CONTEXT BEFORE CONTENT
If content is king, then context is the crown. For that reason,
consider participant context before selecting presentation content in order to make your presentation specific and relevant.
Audience members’ profession or industry; their workplace or
organization; their job responsibilities; and their overall knowledge, experience and personal characteristics all should inform
the content of your speech.
Marketers often invent consumer profiles when preparing a
new product pitch. You should do the same for your presentation, developing a rich portrait of your audience, the issues
and opportunities its members face, and their personal demographics and attributes. Creating such a portrait will help you
select relevant content segments, examples and presentation
techniques that your target audience will find engaging.
3. START WITH B.S.
No, not that B.S. And not the other B.S. — bulleted slides —
either, as software programs like Keynote and PowerPoint can
unnecessarily constrain your thinking at this stage. Start,
instead, with a different B.S.: a blank slate.
Blank slating is the freeform identification of the content
points, stories, examples, quotes, etc., supporting your presentation outcomes. This approach allows you to complete your
thoughts more easily, whether you do it as a mind map, on
Post-it® notes or on the computer in a Word document. Once
your initial ideas are down on paper, you can then organize,
categorize, refine and edit them in order to finalize your presentation content.
Whatever your method, just remember: Think freely, edit
faithfully and avoid slide design software.
4. FOCUS ON TEACHING, NOT TALKING
Although great content is necessary, it’s not enough. Neither
is the classic lecture-followed-by-Q&A presentation format. A
sage on the stage that includes memorable stories, compelling
content and engaging examples often is far superior. Good pre-
senters therefore think not only about what they’re saying, but
also about how they’re saying it.
5. INCLUDE VALUABLE VISUALS
Effective visuals offer more than meets the eye. They can
enhance learning, for instance, and — when they involve more
than just handouts and slides, such as props, videos, posters
and flipcharts — also can bring your content to life.
The reason props are so effective is that they offer a simple
visual that can metaphorically represent a key theme or point.
They can be passed around to engage people’s tactile sense.
Short video clips — be they humorous commercials, stock footage purchased online or vignettes you’ve recorded yourself — can
illustrate real-life situations. Oversized quotes, questions or news
clippings can turn your walls into an art gallery for participants to
browse. Table posters placed on cardboard easels offer an up-close
visual. And the classic flipchart provides an unplugged, handcrafted feel that is particularly appropriate for smaller audiences.
Don’t forget, however: The dominant visual of your presentation is you. Because participants should be looking at the presenter, what you wear, where you stand, when and how you move
around, and the distance between you and the audience should
be deliberate, not haphazard. Think about your body. Although
standing behind a podium can project confidence and authority,
the podium often blocks shorter or smaller-framed presenters.
Standing or sitting unencumbered seems more conversational, but
is uncomfortable for many presenters. In smaller rooms, when you
aren’t on a riser, moving toward or through the audience can shift
their attention and allow you to connect more with individuals.
6. DESIGN GREAT SLIDES AND HANDOUTS
Great slides and handouts are by design, not default. If you do
handouts, then, design printed materials that support your initial outcomes. Use page layout programs like Pagemaker or
InDesign to make materials visually appealing and varied. Always
ask: Is this worth the paper and ink required to produce it?
While having design skills can be an asset, it’s not a requirement for creating good handouts and slides. Planning, however,
is. When remodeling your home, for instance, you might tear
out magazine pages of houses with appealing designs. Do the
same thing for handouts and slides, creating both physical and
electronic file folders in which you can store slides, handouts,
newsletters and other examples of good design. Slideshare.net
— think You Tube for slides — is another great source for examples of what to emulate and what to avoid.
With slides, less is almost always more. Keep the total number of slides low, then, and the amount of information on each
slide minimal. That said, highly technical talks often require
far more information to be visually displayed, so no one rule fits