All communications professionals are called on to give presentations from time to time and, for many of us, the prospect can be daunting. But it doesn’t have. The secret to a great presentation can be summed up in nine simple words.
▶ “Have a conversation.” Start by thinking of your presentation as a conversation. To get into this frame of mind, imagine the topic of your presentation is something that you want to explain to a friend.
Try and sit down with a friend and explain the topic to him. Otherwise, pretend you’re talking to a friend and record yourself. Ask the question, “If I was going to talk to someone about XYZ topic, what do I think he would want to know?”
The point of this exercise is to identify the major takeaway of your presentation. Bare in mind that however compelling your delivery the amount of information your audience can absorb is limited.
If you can get the audience to remember one main point, you’ve done a great job. Write out your big idea on a single sheet, and use that as your focal point as you begin to develop your outline.
Once you have the big idea and your outline, add in detail and supporting points. At this stage, it’s about the ideas: Avoid the temptation to start thinking about graphics and layout just yet. A presentation isn’t about great-looking slides, it’s about ideas that attract people. Refine your point, work out what’s important and make it matter to the other person.
▶ “Keep it simple.” Once you have your outline, let three words, keep it simple, be your guide when fleshing them out into slides. The presentation is a conversation and that means it’s about you, not your slides.
Each slide should support a single key point from your outline; for each slide, you need only a single powerful image, or perhaps a few key words, to represent the point you are making.
The pictures and words don’t try to tell the story; they support your story, and add visual interest.
Too many words on a slide actually hinder your audience’s ability to understand your presentation. If the language-parsing part of your brain is busy parsing words on the slides, it can’t take in the words you are speaking.
But the visual-parsing part of the brain works independently from language, so the audience can take in a picture and your words at the same time. In fact, a recent MIT study found that it only takes your brain 13 milliseconds to interpret an image.
▶ “Know your stuff.” The last three of our nine words relate to delivery. When it comes to giving the presentation, what matters most is knowing what you’re talking about.
Even seasoned presenters can get stage fright. The key is to practice, practice, practice. Aim to know the presentation so well that you can deliver it without referring more than occasionally to your script.
If you’ve chosen good images for the slides, they will provide visual clues to each point you want to make.
Once again, the best presentation is not a lecture or a speech, but rather a conversation. So if you can—and it takes some time to get used to this—just talk normally, as if you were discussing the topic with a pal, rather than a room full of strangers. One trick is to talk more slowly than usual. This helps reduce the tendency to speechify and helps reduce the “umms” and “ahhs.” It also sends a subtle signal to the audience that you are comfortable in your skin.
Be upbeat about your topic; enthusiasm is contagious and helps keep your audience engaged. Let the questions fly (within reason). Keep your voice elevated, smile, make eye contact and be sure to come out from behind the podium and move around the stage.
All of these things help you connect with the audience. Remember, too, that the audience wants you to succeed. People are not there to see you fail. They’re there because they want to hear what you have to say.
“Have a conversation. Keep it simple. Know your stuff.”
These nine words provide the foundation for building more effective presentations.
A great talk is the most powerful way to persuade, encourage and even excite people. It’s the key to unlocking business success.
Mike Neumeier is principal of Arketi Group. Follow him on Twitter, @arketi.
This article originally appeared in the September 15, 2014 issue of PR News. Read more subscriber-only content by becoming a PR News subscriber today.